Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey
So, to keep things interesting I try not to have two series by the same author on the go at once. I like the variety that comes from reading a range of different voices. I kind of messed that up when I picked up Leviathan Wakes, a novel I’ve heard very good things about, which it turns out was co-written by Daniel Abraham, author of The Dragon’s Path, the book I’d read immediately preceding this one. James S. A. Corey is the pseudonym for the writing team of Abraham and Ty Franck. I can’t get too upset however; I loved Leviathan Wakes.
Leviathan Wakes takes place in a future where humanity conquered the Solar System, colonising Mars, the Asteroid Belt and the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, but not beyond. The people of the Asteroid have adapted to low gravity, becoming taller and more spindly and now known as Belters. Tensions between the high gravity inner planets and the Belters has led to the formation of the OPA (Outer Planets Alliance), which seeks independence from Earth control. James Holden is the second in command of a vessel carrying ice from Jupiter to the Belt when his ship, The Canterbury, come across the abandoned ship Scopuli. In the process, Holden and his crew are thrown into a conspiracy which stretches the system and threatens to plunge it into war. Meanwhile, on the Belt dwarf planet of Ceres, Detective Miller is given a new case, to find the missing Julie Mao, the daughter of a wealthy inner planet family who fled her life of luxury to rough it in the Belt. His search soon connects him to Holden’s conspiracy as the two slowly uncover what is really going on.
Leviathan Wakes pulls off that tricky balance between being exciting and interesting. The actual setting is more original than it first seems, focusing on that awkward middle point between vast galactic empire and Earth bound near future stuff. It’s plausible, but not too focused on scientific rigour. This is a book intended to be fun; the ‘fiction’ is much more important than the ‘science’, as all good sci-fi should be. Leviathan Wakes is genre hopping, with strong element of horror thrown in. All of it is done well. The action scenes are particularly well done, particularly towards the end with an utterly relentless pace. One sequences towards the middle goes on rather too long and begins to lose tension, but otherwise this is a masterfully paced work which makes it compulsively readable from beginning to end. Leviathan Wakes is just plain fun.
Now, that isn’t intended to sound dismissive; this kind of tone isn’t easy! The story alternates between Holden and Miller; I don’t know how Abrahams and Franck wrote this together and whether they alternated chapters. Either way, the whole thing feels seamless. They do a great job of creating a strong world and characters quickly and efficiently, without a single world wasted. The writing style isn’t flashy and is very much there to serve the story, which is fine, because it’s a damn good story.
The characterisation is generally strong, but not perfect. Holden and Miller are likable protagonists, but not quite different enough. We’re told about their personality traits rather than really experiencing them and I wonder if this book would have benefited from a wider gap between the two. Don’t get me wrong, they’re good characters and the supporting cast is great, but we get a bit too much telling rather than showing.
All said and done however, Leviathan Wakes is a hugely entertaining read which sets up an interesting universe I can’t wait to wallow in during future books. It isn’t perfect, but it’s just so damn enjoyable that I don’t care. I can’t wait to read the next one.