Review: Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey

Recommended? Yes

Rating: 4/5

Who might like this? Fans of space opera and politics! If you enjoy a fast-paced story with world building that is easy to grasp, that is plot-driven, then this fits the bill.


Ok sometimes you just need to take a break from heavy reading! These last two years have been a thing, and I predict 2022 will have its ups and downs. Some days I’m optimistic: I see the end of restrictions and isolation. But some days…(shaking my head dejectedly)...those days I just need to get out of my thoughts and into a book. A goal I’ve set for myself this year is to read a novel series, something falling on the entertainment side of reading rather than deep and meaningful. I love deep and meaningful, but a balance must be struck!

My criteria for a series was that it be fun, and finished. I don’t want to get into a situation where I catch up in a series then have to wait for the next one, all the while rapidly forgetting the details. I have abandoned too many series for this reason already. I wonder what the formula is for forgetting the details of novels while you wait for the next one? I guess variables would be how good the novel was, the time from reading, and some complicated mathematical relationship that involves pi.

[A pause in the review! I just wrote the above, then casually searched “rate of forgetting books I read” and went down a time-sucking internet hole of learning. So, apparently Hermann Ebbinghaus, a German psychologist in the 1800s, came up with the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve which characterizes how we forget information. Here is the simplified formula: 
where R is the retrievability of the memory, s is the stability of the memory, and t is time. Note: it does not involve pi, rather the constant e, which I had no idea existed. It is Euler’s number and is approximately equal to 2.718. It is clearly less famous than pi!]

Enter The Expanse, a nine novel series by James S. A. Corey (a pseudonym for writers Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham). The final book was published just this year. Why The Expanse? It was on my radar because the final book just dropped, and there is a completed TV adaptation. Then, as luck would have it, we were chatting with our good friends, and when I mentioned I was considering reading The Expanse, they got very excited and talked it up. Plus, they lent me the first three books. Sold!

There was a lot to like about book #1: Leviathan Wakes. The story happens in a (probably) plausible human future in our solar system. I say probably because I like sci fi but I don’t care as much about the actual scientific plausibility of the technology. There is an uneasy stability between Earth, Mars and the Belters, who are the humans that settled the outer planets but are still governed by the inner planetary governments. It doesn’t take much for this delicate political balance to topple, which is exactly what happens when a spectacular act of violence sparks warfare. Solar system-wide chaos ensues. The novel is told in alternating short chapters from two points of view. Holden is an Earther working in the Belt on a water mining ship when he is thrust into a new and precarious role. Miller is a burnt out Belter cop who’s handed a case that lands him in the centre of the action.

Leviathan Wakes was genuinely fun. It was a page turner, and the almost 600 pages flew by. I liked the alternating chapters, and there were lots of twists and turns. It was only slightly hard to keep the factions straight at the beginning but that quickly passed, and the politics and strategy weren’t hard to follow. By and large I liked the characters; even though they were not deeply written, their decisions always had an internal logic to them and seemed smart enough. The supporting cast is also a likeable crew. There was a surprisingly compelling scene in which the main action involved spewing vomit, but I will not say more, as it is a spoiler for sure. The authors put the characters through their paces and it was so satisfying to see them beat more and more dire straits and actually stay alive! [I should name this the Jack Reacher effect. I love Jack Reacher. He’s the good guy, and he gets so beat up but you always know he’ll be just fine, and that’s a wonderful thing when reality is so uncertain].

The book is very plot-driven. If you’re looking for complex characters, deep dives into motivations or subtlety, it’s probably not for you. That said, the book did make me think, and it wasn’t all happy thoughts. How ever far in the future this is, humans are up to the same old same old. Earthers and Martians govern the Belters, who have a thriving underground rebellion fomenting. People from the inner planets are shorter and heavier built and Belters are tall and lithe, all due to the gravity each grew up in, mirroring the racial tensions we have today . Even the Earthers and Martians don’t like each other. Power dynamics dominate, and it takes so little to spark so much war and hatred. Misinformation is rampant. Governments and people act before talking to each other. It takes an “other” that everyone can hate in order for the warring factions to overcome their differences, and resolve the threat of catastrophic interplanetary violence.

But that’s human nature I suppose, and it’s speculative fiction, right? Not fact! So probably nothing like this will ever happen, and we’ll all be peaceful all the time in the far future. Perhaps at least a fifty-fifty chance? Regardless, Leviathan Wakes was still so fun, and I can’t wait to read the next book. More to follow!


Favourite Quotes:


“He’d seen unequivocally that the chaos he’d educated his life to holding at bay was stronger and wider and more powerful than he would ever be. No compromise he could make would be enough. His death-self was unfolding in him, and the dark blooming took no effort. It was a relief, a relaxation, a long, slow exhale after decades of holding it in.”


“The moral complexity of the situation had grown past his ability to process it, so he just relaxed in the warm glow of victory instead.”


Read a Series: The Expanse 

Review: Caliban's War (March 18, 2022)
Review: Leviathan Wakes (January 29, 2022)


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