‘Leviathan Wakes’ (The Expanse #1) by James S.A. Corey – Book Review

The beginning of an epic sci-fi space opera

The Expanse is a fascinating sci-fi epic, and the TV show did a fantastic job of fleshing this world out when it originally aired back on Syfy channel in 2015. It’s rare to find a show adapt its source material so well, but when it does – and in such a faithful way – more often than not it’s a success (see: His Dark Materials and Station 19 to name a few!)

Going back and reading the books after watching the series is certainly an interesting experience, and in many ways an extremely rewarding one. While the TV show is good, the novels they’re based on add much more complexity and flavour to what’s otherwise already an extremely delicious sci-fi pie.

For those unaware of the story, or haven’t seen the TV series, The Expanse takes place in the future, where humanity has colonized the solar system from Mars and the Moon through to the asteroid belt. Mars is a military faction that many fear will go to war with Earth, while Earthers aren’t too happy with Mars and keep them locked in their sights at all times.

Caught in the middle are the “Belters”, those stuck in the middle of the conflict and working all their lives out in space, with various space stations and mining colonies to boot.

Leviathan Wakes follows two main characters whom we follow across the first book, with chapters jumping back and forth between the two. The first is Jim Holden, a righteous captain who’s joined by a dedicated crew as they make runs from the rings of Saturn to mining stations in the Belt.

When Jim and his crew stumble upon a derelict ship called the Scopuli, they unwittingly find themselves thrust in the middle of a massive conspiracy. A secret that people will kill to keep.

Meanwhile, Detective Miller is looking for a girl called Jessica Mao. Her parents have money and that’s enough incentive for Miller to head out and try to track her down. Miller’s trail inevitably leads to the Scopuli and Holden himself, where the pair quickly realize that this girl is the key to everything.

With the threat of war looming on the horizon, the group work to try and stop Earth and Mars from battling it out, an uprising occurring in the Belt, and a potential alien threat that could wipe them all out too. No pressure then!

Leviathan Wakes is a well written and compelling space opera, but it’s also a complex and diverse world that you can’t help but want to explore in more detail. The way this jumps between two different character perspectives is a nice way of mixing things up, and seeing the world through the eyes of both Miller and Holden poses some particularly tasty moral questions about what’s right and wrong. Not only that but the book also dives into questions about what it means to be human and what our ultimate purpose is in the universe.

What’s immediately noticeable here though, compared to the TV series, is the surprising amount of humour the book plays with. There are some unquestionably tense and deep segments, but they’re sometimes met with moments of levity or a well-placed quip that help to build the characters up in unexpected way.

With the exception of Jim Holden, Fred Johnson and Miller though, a lot of the players here do feel quite one-dimensional. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, given how much this novel attempts to do in around 580 pages, but Naomi, Amos and Alex all feel a bit one-note until very quite near the end of the book.

It’s fair to say James S.A. Corey’s Leviathan Wakes is a must-read for sci-fi fans. It’s a well written, expansive (no pun intended!) and absolutely gripping novel that sets the world of The Expanse up beautifully – and it still holds up 11 years later.

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  • Verdict - 8/10

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