Book Review: Leviathan Wakes (The Expanse)

Here there be spoilers. Reader beware. (If you want to skip the review to enjoy the book without spoilers, Leviathan Wakes has a rating of one gerfunkle.)

One piece of helpful advice on writing I’ve received pertains to forming an ‘anchor character.’ Someone you can sincerely relate to as a reader. Somebody you can latch onto, feel a world through, and relate to. As long as you anchor a reader firmly enough, they’ll still have somewhere to land, a sticking point to make things more believable – no matter how weird shit gets.

Which is all a very long-winded way of describing how I felt about Miller.

We know Miller. We’ve met Miller before. He’s our down and out detective, our grizzled, jaded man who’s seen it all and gotten tired of it. His job consumed him so much he got a divorce. The untreated stresses of what he’s seen behind the barrel of a gun have driven him to alcoholism. He knows the world is shit, but that little kernel of wanting to make it better is still somewhere inside of him, kicking around his ribs like a heartbeat trying not to die. Is he a cliché? Yeah, he is. He’s a trope. But damn does he work, and the popularity of this formula is like a really good recipe.

We can enjoy the weirdness of the protomolecule through Miller’s eyes. We never meet Julie Mao except in the very first chapter, and yet we learn so many important things about her through Miller that I wouldn’t even count her as a fridge character. James S. A. Corey cleverly conveys the kind of person she was through our stalwart detective: a young woman born into so much privilege, yet recognizing the horrible disparity in the solar system and breaking away from that birthright to help those less fortunate than she. In turn, Miller pursues Julie because to him, she’s an anomaly. By rights, she should be spoiled. Entitled. In spite of that, she threw in all her weight somewhere she thought would do some good. And if she can do that, maybe he can keep the kernel beating a little longer.

I found the ending between Miller and Julie to be heart-wrenching in the best of ways. We see how much of a broken man he is, but we follow him through what feels like his personal story of redemption. And we get to finally see Julie’s own strength, powerful enough to steer the alien monstrosity of Eros away from Earth and towards dead Venus.

Characterization in this book was fantastic. I absolutely loved it. It’s a 5/5 stars for me.

There’s a lot of great worldbuilding ideas in this story. All in all, the way that humanity has begun to ‘other’ one another feels all too real. Frighteningly so. The elongation of the belter’s bones, the establishment of entire new languages – all of these details just added so much to defining the world itself. I admit that first conversation Miller had with a witness completely threw me off – I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what she was saying, (long arm what now?) but that was clearly intentional. It’s classic low-fi building blocks, and it’s done flawlessly. In particular, I loved the hints of cultural mixing: the music, the people, even everyone’s last names. In my view, science fiction should be inherently diverse. It makes no sense to me otherwise.

Worldbuilding is another solid 5/5.

As for the plot: like Miller, there’s a lot about it that feels familiar, especially if you love science fiction. An evil corporation makes decisions that effect countless people, mostly for personal gain. This story does raise some really interesting questions, though, about coming into contact with an advanced alien race. Even just seeing its technology has to make us question everything, and within the context of the story, the technology found is billions of years old. When confronting the scientist that ran the horrible experiment on Eros, he points out that compared to humanity, these beings are essentially gods. If they chose to end us, they could do it without a thought.

If you’re a sci-fi geek like I am, you probably got just as giddy as I did during this scene. Because it’s true. On the grand scale, we better f***ing hope we’re forerunners. Because if we’re late to the game of sentience and space travel, people, we’re completely and utterly screwed.

Plot, you guessed it, is another 5/5.

Finally, here’s a great one. Guess what?

This book has a rating of one gerfunkle. (If you don’t know what a gerfunkle is, you can find that information here: https://vrholmes.wordpress.com/2022/07/03/book-reviews-and-how-i-do-them/)

This shocked me. It’s so rare that I read a novel in this genre which doesn’t contain themes like this, but Leviathan Wakes has none.

You can read and enjoy this five-star book completely at your leisure.

I sincerely hope that you do.

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