Friday, September 14, 2012

Book Review: Leviathan Wakes

I did something dangerous.  I read Leviathan Wakes.  Ok, maybe that doesn't sound all that dangerous, but often when books get a whole grip of great reviews, and ride a wave of hype that would make Johnny Utah and Bodhi think twice, it is hard for said book to make much of an impression on me.  Often these well-loved, ultra-hyped books wind up being reads that disappoint me the most...all because of the book's failure to meet these high expectations I build up in my head.

So, yeah, dangerous.

Every now and then though, a book will survive the hype. Leviathan Wakes did more than just survive; it managed to rock my socks off.

I think I've always been a bit intimidated by space operas, due in large part to the  massive scale these types of are set on.  Leviathan Wakes is a space opera that's set in the somewhat distant future where humanity has started to colonize the solar system, but hasn't figured out how to reach other stars.  For now the Moon, Mars, and the Asteroid Belt all sport human life, but the desire to branch out further is a strong one.

Though the events of Leviathan Wakes are spread out across our solar system, a fairly grand scale in my book, but not so much compared to other space operas, I never felt like I was struggling with figuring things out.  The fact that the setting is a familiar is handy, but Corey also does a great job of containing the story to a few select locales, and then bringing these locales to vivid life through a great deal of crafty writing.  All this served to make Leviathan Wakes an accessible novel for a novice space opera reader like myself.

In addition to great world building, or should I say solar system building, Leviathan Wakes has many other strong suits.  Not the least of which being the fact that it maintains a sharp focus throughout, and hones in on a select group of characters, and features two distinct point of view characters who begin the novel on far different trajectories, but whose paths begin to converge as the story progresses. This not only gave the story a nice consistent pace, but allowed the reader to gain two very different perspectives or angles on the events that the narrative is centered around.

My favorite of the two point of view characters was Jim Holden, the Executive Officer on an ice mining ship that makes runs from the rings of Saturn, back to the mining stations on the Asteroid Belt.  While returning from one such mission, he and his crew stumble on a wrecked and stranded ship.  Upon searching the wreck for survivors or clues to their demise, they instead find themselves unwittingly and unwillingly a part of events that might just start a terrible war.  With war brewing faster than your morning pot of coffee, Holden and his crew discover that they just might be the key to putting a stop to things before things get crazy.

The opposing point of view character is the curmudgeony Detective Miller, who has been handed a missing persons case.  Not the easiest kind of case given that there's billions upon billions of people in the solar system, but the parents are rich, and contrary to popular belief, money, not the sun's gravitational pull,  makes the solar system go round.  When Miller's search leads him to the same wrecked ship that Holden and his crew discovered, Miller beings to realize the missing girl may be the key to everything, including peace in the solar system.

I think what impressed me most about Leviathan Wakes is how well crafted and honed this novel is.  There seemed to be a deliberate effort to make the book not only accessible to a wide range of readers, but to also bestow the book with a steady pace where the plot is always moving forward in interesting directions.  There is barely a single moment where this books feels like it is lagging, or losing momentum.  I think it is pretty fair to say that this book had me engaged from the very first page, til the very last. The kicker here though is the story  itself which has, for my money, the near perfect blend of some wonderful elements: drama, action, intrigue, politics, a bit of horror, (with a dash of gore), and even a few moments that wouldn't be all that out of place in a fantasy novel.  I was a happy reader.

My one an only complaint here is that sometimes, the secondary characters didn't feel like they had too much substance to them.  Some of Holden's crew members tended to blur together into one unidentifiable clump, better defined by their jobs on the ship rather than their unique personalities.  This didn't have much impact on the quality of the book though as there was so much other great stuff going on for it.  Still, it was an area that was noticeably thin.

In the end, Leviathan Wakes stands out not only as one of the best science fiction books I've read this year, but it stands out as one of the best books I've read this year period.  This one managed to hit quite a few of my buttons, all while being something way different from what I normally enjoy. So kudos to Daniel Abraham, and Ty Franck for writing such a kick ass book.  If you haven't had the chance to read this one, it is pretty much a must read.

Grade: A-


redhead said...

So happy you liked it! Leviathan Wakes was definitely one of my recent favorites. I take it you plan to read the sequel, Caliban's War?

Ryan said...

Oh, Indeed! It is high on my wish list right now.