Review: Leviathan Wakes

by Kathleen
Published: Updated:

“Is that a space ship on the cover of that book?” my friend asked incredulously, as I settled in next to her with Leviathan Wakes.

“Yeah,” I said, shyly. And then I qualified,  “I mean, this isn’t really my thing.”

And it’s true that when I started this novel, the first book in the Expanse series and the basis for the show on the SyFy channel, I had never even heard the term “space opera.”  Apparently, it’s a whole legit sub-genre of science fiction which includes such interplanetary adventures as the Ender’s Game series and (duh) Star Wars.  It’s like “soap opera,” but in space and with warfare. As I’m relatively inexperienced in speculative science fiction and therefore can’t give a contextualized review, I’m going to instead offer some pros and cons for reading this book.

My gut feeling is that you already know if it’s your thing, but maybe you’ll be surprised.

Reasons to Read It:

  • I’m starting with the reason that motivated me to pick this up: Someone you respect recommends it to you. My husband and I are both readers, but share very few favorites.  Every once in awhile, one of us will read something and say, “Hey, I think you might actually like this!” It’s always a delight when that’s true.
  • The collaboration between the two authors is fascinating and inspiring. James S.A. Corey is the pen name for Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, who write this series together. I loved thinking about how two friends work side-by-side to create this rich, detailed world and the stories within it.  Franck writes about their process here.
  • There are two likable protagonists. Chapters alternate between the perspectives of James Holden, a ship captain with an outlaw sense of justice, and Joe Miller, a space station police detective obsessed with his latest case.  The two intersect in key sections of the novel.
  • The ending satisfies.  Leviathan Wakes is a big book – 592 pages.  The multi-pronged story meanders, but the final 100 pages clip along, tying up the plot efficiently and with suspense.  I snapped it shut with a happy sense of accomplishment.  Further, there are several exciting  twists along the way that both make sense within the story world and surprise the reader.

Reasons to Skip It:

  • You definitely don’t like space.  If you’ve never been interested in futuristic books or movies set in space, you just won’t like this.  It has an engaging plot with elements of adventure, romance, bromance, conspiracy, and politics, but it’s also really spacey.  You can’t escape the space.
  • It’s gross. Holden and Miller have to figure out what’s going on with a “protomolecule” that infects people and turns them into “vomit zombies.”  When they get sick, humans start sprouting tendrils from orifices and spewing goo.  It gets pretty nasty.
  • It’s long. There are a lot of great moments in Leviathan – my favorites were centered around the future of the protomolecule and the tension between Holden and his crew – but there are plenty of parts that drag.  It might have been slow for me because this really isn’t my thing (although I did zip through Ender’s Game and enjoy the latest Star Wars installment in the movie theater).  Other, more qualified reviewers generally like The Expanse.  And I agree that it has merit, for sure.

Overall, I’m glad I read this, but I won’t read the next books in the series.  What about you? Will you immerse yourself in space opera?!  Have you ever branched out to a new genre and found it rewarding?  I’d love to know.

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