Review: Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey

Title: Leviathan Wakes

Author: James S.A. Corey


Publisher: Orbit

Format: Trade Paperback


“It’s been too long since we’ve had a really kickass space opera.”

There’s really no better way to summarize Leviathan Wakes than George R.R. Martin’s blurb on the cover. The novel is smart without being intellectual and well-written without being literary. It just simply kicks ass and its lack of pretentiousness is really what makes this novel appeal to the everyman.

Let me explain.

Take for example the laws of physics. In hard science fiction, velocities and accelerations are calculated to determine movement through space and time. In softer science fiction, space travel becomes a sort of fantasy where technology is nothing but a magic system. In Leviathan Wakes, there is an attempt to make the science plausible without boring the reader with the details. Gravity in outer space is achieved by the spinning of asteroids and there are limitations to what the human body can endure in terms of spaceship acceleration. No formulas required, just a reasonable effort to depict the universe we live in.

Leviathan Wakes is a blend of space opera and noirish detective work, with slight traces of horror. It is told from two points of view: that of Jim Holden, an idealistic freight officer, and Josephus Miller, a pragmatic, but often nihilistic detective. The effect of having two points of views is convenient — James S.A. Corey is a pseudonym for Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, who co-wrote the novel (each can write from an individual viewpoint). On the other hand, the pinging back and forth between the two characters is a little jarring and it might have helped to have a third viewpoint to balance the novel out.

Jim Holden is an XO on an ice miner that comes to assist a shipwrecked space vessel, the Scopuli. His ship and captain are destroyed by an unknown enemy during an attempted rescue and Holden sends out a message that is the catalyst for an interplanetary war. Holden becomes captain of his own vessel and he embarks on a mission to find out the meaning behind the Scopuli and their attacker.

Detective Miller is a belter from the asteroids of the outer planets who is contracted by two parents to find their missing daughter, Julie. His detective work leads him to Jim Holden and they learn that Julie was aboard the Scopuli and is the key to understanding what has transpired. In the midst of a great war, Holden and Miller journey to discover a conspiracy that threatens the fate of humanity.

What the novel did very well is developing its characters. Jim Holden is the moral character, having faith in his fellow man. But he is far from perfect — he is quick to judge others, he is stubborn, and has a history of using women (mistaking it for love). Detective Miller is not so optimistic. He trusts no one and has a tendency to shoot first and ask questions later. He remembers when killing had an emotional effect on him, but now he is just numb to it. He’s disobedient to authority and frankly can’t be trusted by his closest friends. In the end, Miller will do what he thinks is right at the time. As one can expect, the two men don’t always work well together, but each plays a crucial role in unfolding the mystery.

As mentioned earlier, I really appreciate the novel trying to apply the physical laws of our world — after all, it takes place in our solar system. The dialog is witty and the action scenes are good. Where the novel falls a little short is in the plot development. There were many times in the novel where I didn’t feel it was building toward something. Right from the beginning we are shown glimpses of horror — something so grotesque and frightening that we are longing to understand it. But it goes unmentioned and does not show itself until later in the novel. I’m reminded of the movie From Dusk Till Dawn, where we have what appears to be a straightforward robbery and kidnapping drama. Then halfway through, it suddenly becomes a vampire movie. This happens to a lesser extent with Leviathan Wakes. A throwback space opera takes an abrupt turn into a Dean Koontz-style horror or scenes from a Ridley Scott movie. But this horror is never quite understood or realized in a way that resolves all of our questions.

Overall, this novel was a very good read. I will definitely be reading the second book in the series very soon. Leviathan Wakes is approachable, witty, and a helluva ride that will have you racing through the text to find out what happens next. I have no hesitation in recommending the novel.

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