James S. A. Corey's Leviathan Wakes was one of my favorite reads of 2011 and I was eager to sink my teeth into its sequel! Sadly, there was a screw-up at Orbit and not only did I never receive an Advance Reading Copy, but I never got a review copy of the novel. It took a while for me to sort everything out, which is why this review of Caliban's War was so late in coming.
Understandably, Leviathan Wakes raised my expectations through the roof for this one, and I wasn't sure if this second volume could live up to its predecessor's potential. Well, I'm glad to report that Caliban's War is everything that Leviathan Wakes was and then some! Too bad Daniel Abraham is so fond of those letter-filled pseudonyms, for The Expanse series could well be his signature work. James S. A. Corey means nothing, and it should read Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck on the cover. These guys deserve all the kudos they can get for coming up with such an awesome series. I have a feeling that Ty Franck won't only be known as George R. R. Martin's assistant for much longer. . .
Here's the blurb:
We are not alone.
The alien protomolecule is clear evidence of an intelligence beyond human reckoning. No one knows what exactly is being built on Venus, but whatever it is, it is vast, powerful, and terrifying.
When a creature of unknown origin and seemingly impossible physiology attacks soldiers on Ganymede, the fragile balance of power in the Solar System shatters. Now, the race is on to discover if the protomolecule has escaped Venus, or if someone is building an army of super-soldiers.
Jim Holden is the center of it all. In spite of everything, he's still the best man for the job to find out what happened on Ganymede. Either way, the protomolecule is loose and Holden must find a way to stop it before war engulfs the entire system.
CALIBAN'S WAR is an action-packed space adventure following in the footsteps of the critically acclaimed Leviathan Wakes.
The worldbuilding was once again one of my favorite facets of this book. The political struggles between Earth, Mars, and the Belt, are at the heart of the story. Once more, I loved how Abraham and Franck handled the political aspects of the various plotlines, as well as the repercussions the politicking generates in the greater scheme of things. I would have liked to discover more about the protomolecule and what was transpiring on Venus, but I have a feeling that the authors needed to lay a lot of groundwork to pave the way for the third installment, Abaddon's Gate.
The stakes are higher than in the first volume, yet Caliban's War is not as sprawling a novel as Leviathan Wakes turned out to be. Which probably has a lot to do with the fact that the events occurring on Venus mostly take place "backstage." The better part of the novel has to do with various players trying to prevent interplanetary war between the forces from Earth and Mars. And yet, even though this book offers a tighter focus in terms of storylines, there is no question that this is a multilayered and complex science fiction tale.
As was the case in the first volume, some plotlines that seemed a bit out of place at the beginning all of a sudden become pivotal as the plot continues to move forward. It's another complex novel and it takes a while for the story to finally make sense. But when it finally does, Caliban's War becomes an even more compulsive page-turner!
The characterization was "top notch." In Leviathan Wakes, do-gooder Holden and disillusioned cop Miller created a wonderful balance of points of view, and I felt that the authors did a great job of playing one against the other. And although Holden is back as a POV character in Caliban's War, the rest of the POV protagonists are new faces. I wasn't sure about Gunnery Sergeant Roberta Draper and Chrisjen Avasarala, UN assistant to the undersecretary of executive administration, but both rapidly grow and you and their points of view add a few more layers to a tale that already echoes with depth. On the other hand, Praxidike Meng's POV isn't as engaging or endearing. But most of the sequences he appears in feature Holden's crew and it's nice to have them back.
I felt that Caliban's War was better paced than its predecessor and there is not a dull moment from start to finish! Somehow, this second installment raises the bar even higher. The ending, in particular, makes it impossible not to line up to read Abaddon's Gate the minute it comes out!
Caliban's War is definitely one of the SFF titles to read this year!
Believe you me: Space opera doesn't get much better than this!