Review: Caliban’s War

Caliban's War coverCaliban’s War by James S.A. Corey
The Expanse series #2
View book info on GoodReads

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars 4 out of 5 stars
First Published: June 26, 2012
Read from: January 26 to February 2, 2015

This Week on “As the Protomolecule Turns… “

The Space Opera that is “The Expanse” just keeps getting better.

Book Blurb

For someone who didn’t intend to wreck the solar system’s fragile balance of power, Jim Holden did a pretty good job of it. When a single super-soldier begins slaughtering soldiers of Earth and Mars, the race is on to discover whether this is the vanguard of an alien army, or if the danger lies closer to home.

Caliban’s War is the second book of the Expanse series that started with Leviathan Wakes. The series, written by James S.A. Corey – a pen name for the collaboration of Albuquerque, New Mexico authors Ty Franck & Daniel Abraham, has garnered a lot of attention. There is a SyFy television series coming out soon based on the books. Having enjoyed the first novel so much, it was long over due for me to read the sequels.
Caliban’s War is an excellent book. It is its own stand-alone story, but I absolutely would not read it without first reading Leviathan Wakes. While the story would still be enjoyable it would severely ruin your enjoyment of the first book if you ever want to read that one. Some have written that the story ends in a cliff-hanger. This is largely untrue. Caliban’s War is its own story, but it does have a nice little bit at the end that makes you say, “WTF?!” and want to read the next story to find out what happens next. But hey, that desire to read on is what makes this such an awesome series.

Like Leviathan Wakes the sequel manages to stir several sci-fi genres together in a very tasty concoction. It is largely a space opera souffle, but the ingredients include:

  • …lots of hard sci-fi gadgets and geeky facts.
  • …a military sci-fi with lots of gritty action.
  • …a political and character drama with lots of intrigue, neat characters, and fun dialog.
  • …AND there’s a bit of a horror story in it as well, with… well, read the first book, I’m not going to spoil anything.

As I mentioned in the title of this review, I think Caliban’s War is better than the first book. But why did I give it the same rating as Leviathan Wakes you ask? Let me explain. The initial creation of the “universe” of Leviathan Wakes and it’s main “gotchya” premise is what really made it for me, despite some of its flaws. The second book’s characters and dialog and most of the action are far better than the first. But the overall arc of the story is so much like the first, that it loses some for originality. Yes its a sequel. Yes it’s a different story that evolves from the first. But the main gotchya is really the same, many of the characters are the same, and the overall arc almost beat for beat is, you got it, the same.

But what it does, Caliban’s War does so, so well. For one there are more cool POV characters than just the two whose story told most of Leviathan. The list includes:

  • James Holden – is back as captain of the fast-attack light frigate Rocinante (the name of Don Quixote’s horse), as is his crew that has become more of a family — Naomi Negata, Alex Kamal, and Amos Burton. The crew continues to work for the Outer Planets Alliance in actions where a salvaged Martian Navy warship might prove useful. But have events begun to turn the “boy scout” Captain Holden into the character of his friend Detective Miller from the first book? Are his new cynical tendencies to shoot first and ask questions later as he tries to protect his crew going to endanger them further, or end up driving them away?
  • Praxadike Meng – a botanist on the farming moon of Ganymede. While his character is completely different from that of Detective Miller from the first book, he is on a quest very similar. The crew of the Rocinante decide to help Prax despite what it might mean for them.
  • Mei Meng – similar to the character of Julie Mao in the first book, Mei Meng, daughter to Prax, has the POV for the novel’s prologue, and starts the mystery which drives much of the action.
  • Roberta “Bobbie” Draper – a gunnery sergeant in the Martian marines. At first stationed at Ganymede as a counter to Earth United Nation troops, she finds herself embroiled in a battle she is ill-prepared for, a battle of political intrigue. But there is plenty of military action for her throughout the book.
  • Chrisjen Avasarala – the grandmotherly, (and foul-mouthed,) Assistant Undersecretary of Executive Administration to the United Nations. Along with Bobbie of the Martian Marines she has made it her mission to keep all out war between Earth, Mars and the Outer Planets from breaking out yet again, so that mankind can stand united against whatever mysterious transformation is taking place on Venus.

The second book handles the now several split POVs much better than the first I thought. There were a couple of slow parts, but for the most part I found the action and intrigue drove the story forward much better than the first. Ironically the only part I felt let down by was one little bit of the action near the end where a large climatic space battle scene that all the character’s stories have been leading us towards seems to be over far too quickly. The horror elements of the story are not quite as visceral and psychological as the first book, for the most part because you have some idea of what’s coming. But the evolution of those horror elements has a more polished and “cool” factor quality to it.

Finally, what does “Caliban” have to do with it. Other than the title it’s not mentioned once. All I can say is read more Shakespeare, specifically “The Tempest”.

And now for some cool quotes. Be warned — These quotes contain a LOT of spoilers.  In addition to some cool lines and bits, there is one large bit that I think is one of the coolest descriptions of a gun fight of all time.

Spoiler: Cool Quotes Show

 
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