Review: Dirty Magic by Jaye Wells

DMTitle: Dirty Magic

Author: Jaye Wells

Publisher: Orbit

Format: electronic ARC

Where I Received the Title: NetGalley


Dirty Magic has caused a lot of problems in Babylon. These addicting potions can help you lose weight in some places or help you gain weight in others. They can make you stronger or can relieve depression. But one of these magical narcotics is more dangerous than any before it — Grey Wolf. This shapeshifting formula transforms the best of souls into a bloodthirsty werewolf of sorts within minutes.

The Magic Enforcement Agency (MEA) is after the makers of this drug and commissions policewoman, Kate Prospero to help with the case. She’s tough in a Stephanie Plum sort of way, but is loath to use the greatest skill in her arsenal — dirty magic. There are skeletons in Prospero’s closet, but to defeat the formidable forces behind Grey Wolfe, she must revisit her past. Unfortunately, sometimes the only way to fight magic is with magic.

I admit that I don’t read a lot of urban fantasy, so if I were to compare this book to The Dresden Files, it may very well be a poor comparison. The novel starts out with a strong voice and great action right out of the shoot, but for a bit I worried that everything was just a clever corollary to the real world without actually needing magic. The MEA is essentially the DEA and dirty magic is a creative form of illegal drugs. It wasn’t until midway through the book that I began to see that the magic in this book is definitely crucial to the plot as well as to Prospero’s character.

Prospero lives with her younger brother and takes responsibility for him, careful to avoid his exposure to the world of magic. She sees how it has destroyed lives, particularly the lives of those close to her. Her wealthy ex-boyfriend, John Volos, becomes involved in the case, for good and for bad, bringing Prospero’s traumatic past to a front.

I like the way Wells writes, with a voice that is very active and present in the situation. It kept me in the text. Prospero’s character was well-thought out, although I must admit that I found some of the other characters to feel a little hollow. Volos, in particular, seemed to lack true motivation to do the things he did throughout the novel.

I suspect that many urban fantasy fans will find this novel to be a complete delight. The overall plot is a little predictable, but is satisfying nonetheless and the hero of the story is well-equipped with likable traits and motivation to make the reader want to cheer for her. This novel is the first book in a series and even though it was a complete story arc, it set the series up nicely for future installments. You can expect more magic and even greater struggles for our streetwise MEA agent, Kate Prospero, in the future.


Review of The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks

18630Title: The Player of Games (Culture #2)

Author: Iain M. Banks

Publisher: Orbit

Format: Paperback

Where I Received the Title: Library


When Iain Banks died a few months ago, I decided I needed to give him another try. I had a false start a few years back with Consider Phlebas, but had read that his second and third culture novels were much more approachable. My only regret is that I didn’t give Banks a better shot years ago.

The Player of Games epitomizes everything I love about science fiction. In this novel, Banks has created a vast universe, filled with so many tropes and ideas. There are AI drones, human biological modifications, other worlds with vastly different cultures, and a game that has stakes much higher than life or death.

Jernau Gurgeh is the player of games, who has achieved fame for his skill at annihilating his opponents at any strategic game placed before him. He is drawn into the Empire of Azad, where game playing puts kings on thrones and makes eunuchs of brave men. Here he faces opponents much stronger than he has ever faced in a game that is so complex it takes many a lifetime to learn.

Gurgeh’s game-playing ego is soon quenched after he is nearly knocked from the tournament in the first round and he later dances with elimination when facing a formidable opponent who is neither male nor female, but a gender that is culturally considered superior. Gurgeh is literally willing to risk his manhood to win at this game and forsakes luxurious bribes to make it to the top.

While the plot may seem simplistic, there are many political machinations and technological ideas that kept my interest piqued throughout the novel. The characters are also interesting, the pacing is quick, and the prose is intelligent. I love the culture banks has set up  and am very curious to continue the series. It really is a shame I hadn’t done so earlier.

Review of Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

17333324Title: Ancillary Justice (Imperial Radch #1)

Author: Ann Leckie

Publisher: Orbit Books

Format: e-ARC

Where I Received the Title: NetGalley


There has been a lot of positive publicity about Ann Leckie’s debut novel and to be honest, it is a large part of the reason why I picked up this book. But popularity isn’t the my biggest attractor. Of the broad spectrum that makes up SFF, futuristic science fiction has the greatest appeal for me. Add philosophical elements and great ideas and I’m hooked. On the premise alone, Ancillary Justice had me half-way reeled in before I made it past the first page.

Ancillary Justice alternates between two different timelines. The present tells of a woman named Breq who is the remnant of an AI-controlled hive mind. Each body is an appendage, known as an ancillary, but Breq has been disconnected from the collective (are they dead?) and now hides her identity. Her mission is to assassinate the leader of the Radch, an empire she once served under.

The second time line takes place nearly twenty years earlier when Breq is but an ancillary of the mother ship, Justice of Toren. She serves the empire as a ship with many extensions, finding problems in the way the empire is being controlled, eventually leading up to the events that destroy her collective consciousness.

Like many reviewers before me, I found this novel to be a fresh and welcome read. Where many authors paint green skin on a human mind and call it alien, Leckie fully immerses us in a foreign culture. Language assumptions are a large part of what makes the Radch culture alien. In Western society, we take much of our language for granted. Many latin languages assign male or female articles to objects and until recent decades, male pronouns in English were assumed to be inclusive of their female counterparts. In Leckie’s novel, Breq struggles with many assumptions the Radch language makes about gender and other terms, forcing her to choose her words carefully to avoid causing offense. Her struggles reward the reader with the study of how we use words and left me pondering some of the linguistic themes days after I had finished the book.

The technology is also interesting. Leckie crafts futuristic armor and weapons, delving into the popular theme of body manipulation, which other reviewers have likened into the Culture world of Iain M. Banks. She also touches on the themes of collective consciousness, individualism, and the sentience of artificial intelligence.

I am typically not a fan of parallel timelines, but it actually works fairly well in this novel. The events that are separated by two decades are interrelated and as we progress through the novel, we gain an understanding of how Breq was created and why she wants to kill the leader of the Radch. If there is any fault to the format of the novel it is in the manner information is given to the reader. At the novel’s beginning, Breq’s background is withheld from the reader, making the first third of it a bit confusing. As I progressed through the novel, this information was given in droves and it often felt over-explained.

My criticisms are minor in what I found to be an excellent work. For anyone looking for intelligent science fiction, this is an absolute must read. Judging by the high level of praise it has received, I won’t be surprised to see it up for (or winning) awards next year. While the novel is far from perfect, its praise is deserved and Leckie has delivered one of the best far-future science fiction novels I’ve read in a while. I look forward to reading the sequel in what is planned to be a loosely-tied trilogy.

Review of Abaddon’s Gate by James S. A. Corey

12591719Title: Abaddon’s Gate (Expanse #3)

Author: James S. A. Corey

Publisher: Orbit Books

Format: Trade Paperback

Where I Received the Title: Library


In Abaddon’s Gate, Jim Holden returns for another adreniline-filled space adventure with the stakes as high as in the previous novels — the fate of humanity. The protomolecule, which inhabited Venus in the previous novel, has now aligned itself in space in the form of a giant ring. It comes with great power and has the ability to decelerate any-sized space ship that tries to pass through it with little effort. But why is it there?

Holden and his crew, who are now living large off a fat pay check, have no interest in visiting the entity. Their luck changes when a court order comes through for Holden to turn in his stolen ship, Holden must accept the prospects of an ambitious journalist to keep his transport out of the Martians’ hands. It comes as little surprise that this journalist wants to investigate the ring.

Concerned with the destructive nature of the ring, the UN, Martian, and Belter ships follow. The head of security aboard the Belter ship is a man appropriately named Bull, who is not afraid to take action and ask for permission later. Despite his hard head, he must search to find where his true alliances lie. An Earther UN ship also follows, carrying a civilian crew that includes a Russian Methodist pastor named Anna and a saboteur who calls herself Melba, but is really Clarissa Mao, the vengeful daughter of a man that Holden defied in a previous adventure.

The writing team that is James S. A. Corey delivers once again a fast-paced read that puts just enough science into the mix to make it believable. The action is great and the characters come to life, but unfortunately with the third novel, I felt the story didn’t really go anywhere. Yes, the purpose of the protomolecule in developing the ring is told to the reader, but the question of “so what?” was never clear. The conflict was quite typical and predictable as the Belters, Earthers, and Martians formed all-together new alliances and duked it out inside the ring.

Abaddon’s Gate continues to thrill fans of James S.A. Corey, but for my personal taste I was a bit disappointed. I am hoping for more complexity and more answers in the following book with the same witty dialog and exciting action that makes this series so great. If you are looking for an action-filled space opera, this is certainly the series to read.

Review of Shaman by Kim Stanley Robinson

17669062Title: Shaman

Author: Kim Stanley Robinson

Publisher: Orbit Books

Format: Hardcover

Where I Received the Title: Library


Though he has had a long career, I would consider Kim Stanley Robinson one of the most relevant voices in science fiction. His approach to the genre is with a sense of realism — he makes his futuristic settings plausible even if they are improbable. His previous novel, 2312, looked at a time when humans inhabited the entire solar system. In his latest novel, Shaman, Stan rewinds history to postulate the lives of humans before there were even civilizations.

The novel beings with a boy named Loon, stripped to the nines, about to embark on a thirteen-day wandering as a rite of passage to become a shaman. The weather is cold and rainy, so he must salvage dry kindling to start a fire and find vegetation for temporary clothing until he can find prey for food and fur. As the central character of the novel, Loon survives various predators, escapes a group of neanderthals, or “Old Ones” as they are called, and comes back to camp in style with a deer-toothed necklace and a report from his mushroom-induced vision.

Loon’s return marks him as a shaman apprentice to the much older and sharp-tongued Thorn. Loon doesn’t desire the apprenticeship, but makes do for the good of the clan and to eventually have the right to paint inside the caves.

As summer approaches, the clan heads north from the Salt Sea (Mediterranean), with the intent of meeting up with other clans at a festival. Here, Loon takes an interest in an adopted woman named Elga. Despite Thorn’s objections (he believes a true Shaman should remain single), the women of the pack allow Loon to marry her and bring her with them. In doing so, Elga brings her baggage of a rival clan that has an interest in taking her back and kidnaps her. Thus begins the adventure of a young apprentice searching through the icy tundra for his newfound love.

Like Stan’s futuristic stories, Shaman is in many ways a utopia. The people have no lesser intelligence than today’s humans, just more primitive technology. In contrast, the dwindling population of neanderthals are more likened unto beasts and one story that lives within the clan is that a neanderthal had married a bear and neither of them knew the difference. Women are given a more prominent status than in many ancient civilizations. One of the pack members is chastised for forcing himself upon his wife and is told he must give her all of the power, lest he be exiled from the clan. Heather is a healer of the clan and makes most of the major decisions for them.

The pack’s harmony with Mother Earth is also part of this utopia. Humans have a marriage bond with her and in Loon’s wandering, he masturbates with the ground. Robinson likens the cave to Earth’s womb and the shamans are the spurtmilk, impregnating her with painted animals. Sex as a recreational activity with little consequence is typical of Robinson’s writing, perhaps ideal because of its entertainment value without hindering or depleting the surrounding resources or habitat. We see Loon frolicking in the night with a young woman named Sage, accepting the fact that she may do the same with other young men in the pack. He also sleeps with Elga the first time they meet.

The clans are without cities or societal structures, but also lack one other piece of critical technology — a written language. Without a means of documentation, all stories are passed down orally. This is the shaman’s responsibility to remember and pass down to the children. Perhaps even more importantly, the shaman has a responsibility of painting the caves. Painting is the only responsibility of a shaman that Loon finds appealing. He has little interest in providing spiritual counsel or strategizing how they will gather enough food for the winter.

Winters are long in ancient Europe and Mesopotamia with a setting sometime close to the ice age. In some respects the novel reminds me of Jean Auel’s Clan of the Cavebear (which I read for an anthropology class years ago). Robinson spends significant time discussing the daily lives of the humans and there is even a relationship established with one of the neanderthals. Cave paintings are at times discussed over a series of pages, while significant pieces of action happen in but a few sentences. His style and emphasis of the setting also bear resemblance to Cormac McCarthy’s, The Crossing.

While Robinson succeeded wonderfully in depicting humanity’s early life, he left less of an impression on me in terms of plot and character growth. Loon in many respects is a passive character. In his rite of passage, he alone must navigate the dangerous woods. He finds himself prey to several beasts. When the true conflict of the story happens, it is Thorn who has the agency. Loon, who harbors an injured leg throughout most of the novel, limps along without providing much assistance. Great heroic acts are performed off the stage, so to speak, and Loon only learns of them through dialog. While he matures and learns to accept his role as shaman, Loon fails to realize real character growth. His wife is also somewhat shallow, playing the role of an obedient wife with no internal struggle of her own other than her concern for Loon. Thorn and Heather, on the other hand, are well-developed characters with their own conflicts and fallibilities.

Despite the novel’s shortcomings, Shaman is a beautifully written novel and a fresh return to a setting that has been under-explored. Robinson writes with wonderful prose and is elaborate in describing the world around the characters. This novel appeals mostly to those who are interested in anthropology and understanding the way people might have lived during the time. For those looking for a riveting adventure, this wouldn’t be my first recommendation.

Review: Feed by Mira Grant

feedTitle: Feed

Author: Mira Grant

Rating: 3 star

Publisher: Orbit

Format: Paperback

It’s been twenty years since the Rising — a zombie-apocalypse resulting from a virus that was meant to cure illnesses. But the pandemic hasn’t overtaken all of humanity and the human-zombie population has approached an equilibrium.

In this dangerous world are two siblings, Georgia and Shaun Mason, who have pursued blogging as a career. Like Hunter S. Thompson, they are gonzo journalists, on the road reporting news. Making news.

After Georgia, Shaun, and their friend Buffy land a job to follow the presidential campaign of Senator Peter Ryman, they find themselves in the middle of a vast political conspiracy that threatens to change the whole political landscape of what is now America.

For those who are uncertain, Feed is not a horror novel. In fact, much of the novel is slow-paced, serving more as a satire and political thriller in a dystopian setting. Mira Grant has created a believable relationship between the two siblings and throughout the narrative we read the very different blog entries the two have created. Shaun is a risk-taker, often purposely devoid of protective clothing in the midst of a crowd of zombies. Georgia reports straight news with her own liberal politics bleeding through her posts.

It may seem ironic that she is covering a Republican candidate in Senator Ryman, but he is more of a moderate compared to his VP candidate, Tate. In fact it is this political bias that in many respects gives away too much of the novel. Issues like same-sex marriage and abortion are brought up and are used to blame right-wing politics as more of the reason for the degenerated society than the zombie infestation.

While a novel like this should not be without political opinion (for example, I love George Orwell’s 1984), I found it off-putting the way religious fundamentalism and conservatism was portrayed. It completely misses the worldview many in this group adhere to, dumbing them down to mindless, religious zealots. In fairness, this is similar to the reaction I had after reading Dan Simmon’s right-wing leaning, Flashback. Ultimately, the black-and-white portrayals leave many of the characters paper-thin, much like the megalomaniac enemies we find in James Bond films.

What Mira Grant did well is forming real relationships with the characters and more importantly, giving real consequences for their risks and actions. There is a lot of emotion and empathy the reader gains for the characters. The first couple hundred of pages move along quite slowly, exploring the possible political and social scenarios that would accompany a zombie-infested America, but the narrative picks up in the second half of the novel.

Feed is a novel that was good, but not great. The writing is sufficient and the premise of the story is different than most of the other zombie novels and movies out there. If you are looking for an action-packed horror novel, stay clear. If you are looking for a cerebral dystopian novel with emotional bonds between characters, this may be the book for you. I was glad I read it, but am not rushing to the bookstore to pick up the next novel.

Review: The King’s Blood by Daniel Abraham

Title: The King’s Blood

Author: Daniel Abraham


Publisher: Orbit

Format: Trade Paperback


There’s no denying Daniel Abraham’s versatility. He has been successful in writing epic fantasies, space operas, urban fantasies, and most recently, graphic novels, with an adaptation of GRRM’s Game of Thrones.

The King’s Blood is Daniel Abraham’s second novel in The Dagger and the Coin series. The appropriately titled series tells of various factions competing for power by shrewd monetary deals and ruthless swordplay. Cithrin is an ambitious young banker who has her eyes set on establishing her own bank. As she travels north, she unknowingly sets herself on a path with Geder, the puppet king of a cunning priest. Geder is clueless to the priest’s intentions and heeds his advice with rote obedience.

Dawson is aware of the priest’s hold on Geder and plans a coup. Meanwhile his wife, Clara, maintains their social rank by building relationships with others of the court. Finally we have Marcus, Cithrin’s trusted bodyguard, who desires to travel north to protect her from danger only to find himself in his own set of troubles.

There’s no denying that Abraham is a good writer and this series exemplifies it well. The world building is vast, yet the story moves at a quick pace, keeping the reader glued to the always-changing events. Dawson, who was somewhat of a dull character in the first novel, becomes one of the highlights of the second novel as his discerning eye sees through the priests intentions and he devises a plan to kill the king.

Geder remains complex. He is a scholar of the written word, but appears foolish by worldly standards. He is emotionally unstable and is prone to violent outbursts, but in quiet solitude, he has a forgiving spirit. His interactions with the priest leave the reader wondering if he is over-trusting, clueless, or really just uncaring for others.

The best part of Abraham’s writing is balance. It’s not pretentious, nor does it dwell on details. His writing is able to provide a descriptive setting, good dialog, and an appropriate depth of character. The chapters are short and there is never a point where I feel that the novel drags.

The novel is far from perfect, however. First of all, one cannot help but notice the strong likeness to Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. Like Martin, each chapter is titled with the point of view character’s name. Each character has a unique plot, none of which are either good or evil. There are elements of magic, but the use of it is slight. The stories take place in a fictional locale, but the culture resembles medieval Europe. The books appendices provide character descriptions. I’m not saying that the formula is bad, but it is hard not to draw comparisons and Abraham’s novel does not achieve the same epic scale as Martin’s massive novels.

I was also disappointed in Cithrin’s character arc in this novel. The first novel was a coming of age story for her as she bravely endeavored into banking by making illicit deals. In The King’s Blood, her ambition remains the same, but she purposefully side tracks herself by helping Geder for unknown reasons. I see Cithrin as a woman of power, which she demonstrates by assisting the king, but she is also a woman of purpose. This was forsaken for the second half of the novel.

In any case, reading The King’s Blood is an enjoyable experience and for those looking for an epic fantasy in the style of George R. R. Martin, you will find yourself at home here. There is plenty of adventure and character depth to hold the reader’s interest on many levels. I wait with anticipation for the next book in the series.

Review: The Killing Moon by N.K. Jemisin

Title: The Killing Moon

Author: N.K. Jemisin


Publisher: Orbit

Format: Trade Paperback


The Killing Moon is my introduction to N.K. Jemisin and given the accolades it has received by reviewers, it became quickly apparent that I had to read this book. The novel takes place in the city-state of Gujaareh, where peace reigns. A religious order serves as the lawkeepers, sending out priestly Gatherers in the night to bring a dreaming death to corrupted citizens. In exchange for a peaceful death, the dreamers give up Dreamblood, a source of magic and power given to the goddess Hananja.

The story is told through three characters: Elihu, a faithful Gatherer; Nijiri, his apprentice; and Sinandi, a non-believing spy from a neighboring city-state who suspicious of the activities in Gujaareh. Elihu and Sinandi act with allegiance in their priestly duties, but their faith comes into question when suspicions of corruption within their order arises. Unfortunately, the only person to believe them is Nijiri, a woman who does not practice or believe in their ways.

Many of the previous reviews I saw were just in giving this book the praise it has received. First of all, the premise is entirely unique. Religion in speculative fiction is typically given a bad rap, but in Jemisin’s novel, the corruption is independent of the religious tenets and does not represent the body of its followers. It makes no claims to be moral or amoral, but serves as a cultural way of life for the people in Gujaareh. The result is peace and healing to its adherents.

The prose is gentle and descriptive — the reader sees a vivid world, lush with detail and  imagery. The characters depart from the typical casting in fantasy. Elihu and Nijiri are products of their culture and their morals are formed through it. Sinandi is a stronger character, a woman who advances her goals without compromise. She is independent, but not destitute and cold, like the gritty prostitute-turned-hero archetype that has become an almost humorous trope in modern fantasy.

As a reviewer, I like to provide tangible feedback on books, but I am really struggling to define what it is that prohibits me from giving The Killing Moon a perfect mark. While I found the premise, setting, and characters to be innovative and the writing to be stylistically well-written, I didn’t feel connected to the characters. Perhaps their departure from the typical archetypes left me with nothing to identify with. Jemisin writes with a lot of description and minimal dialog, which slows the pace of the book down slightly (although this is still a quick read). For those who find fantastical names and places a lot to grasp, a glossary was added to the back of the book (a discovery I made after reading it).

Overall, this is a quality, well-written novel with a unique plot and world. I don’t think it is a book for everyone and it isn’t my typical choice. I think readers who enjoy authors such as Elizabeth Bear (specifically her recent novel, Range of Ghosts), will find Jemisin’s work to be wholly satisfying.

Review: The Dragon’s Path by Daniel Abraham

Title: The Dragon’s Path

Author: Daniel Abraham


Publisher: Orbit

Format: Trade Paperback


I was recently introduced to Daniel Abraham after reading Leviathan Wakes and Caliban’s War (co-written with Ty Franck under the pseudonym of James S.A. Corey). Considering my positive experience with their space opera, I was eager to try Abraham’s ongoing epic fantasy series.

The Dragon’s Path is the first book in The Dagger and the Coin series. The series title is appropriate, for the viewpoint characters are known either for their deftness with a blade or their shrewdness with their purse. Geder (the first viewpoint character) is one of the sword-bearers, a literary scholar of sorts, whose hobby of scribbling speculative essays poses little advantage in Abraham’s violent, medieval world. He becomes a political pawn when he is suddenly thrust from low social ranks into a position of power.

Cithrin (the second viewpoint character) is a sixteen-year-old orphan, living and working in a branch of the Medean Bank. Her home city of Vanai comes under attack, threatening the bank’s reserves, and in desperation, Cithrin is sent to lead a caravan of riches to safety. An able swordsman named Marcus (the third viewpoint character) serves to protect her with his band of actors who are dressed to look the part of soldiers. Perhaps the most moral of the viewpoint characters, Marcus serves as a protector and father-like adviser to the cunning Cithrin whose coming-of-age passes in the blink of an eye.

Baron Dawson Killiam (the fourth viewpoint character) is an upper-class nobleman and childhood friend of the king. He is the marionette of Geder’s political career and serves as a defender of the current social order. His stubbornness is balanced by his wife’s soft and kind influences as he schemes against others to gain political advantage.

What makes The Dragon’s Path an enjoyable read is the characters and each views Abraham’s world through a different lens. To Cithrin, economics rule and she begins to pave a way to financial prominence through ingenuity and deceit. To Geder, the world is cruel and misguided. He is uncertain in his aim, but will make bold decisions to avoid becoming a victim. To Dawson, the world is political. Every relationship is either to forge alliances or hinder enemies. The different worldviews of the characters help paint a rich tapestry of the society in which they live.

The style follows in a form similar to George R R Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series — the chapters are titled with the viewpoint character, none of which are clear protagonists or antagonists. The morally ambiguous antiheroes all serve to advance their own purposes (with a possible exception to Marcus) in a diverse, war-ridden world. But unlike Martin, there is very little in terms of fantastical elements. There are thirteen species of humans, but little is provided to the reader to differentiate them other than sparsely-added physical descriptions (such as tusks or long ears). The concept of multiple species is a great idea, but I am really hoping that subsequent books will explore them in greater detail, integrating them into the plot.

One of the challenges with developing an epic fantasy without a hero’s journey is developing a character the reader can identify with. Geder, at first glance, appears to be an unlikely hero — he’s a medieval geek, never fitting in with his expositions are seen as frivolous diversions. When he is put in a position that destines him to failure, he overcomes his circumstances in such a savage and detestable way that he commits treason on the reader. Despite draining the empathy out of me, Geder remains complex and interesting, leaving me completely uncertain of where his character will go.

Cithrin is probably the most interesting character. She is wise beyond her years, but her craftiness is limited, even when she uses her every advantage. Like Geder, our first impression of her changes quickly when we find out that she is not as innocent as we originally thought. But in her case, the character change is intriguing and through her struggles, she becomes more real to the reader.

I really enjoyed the first novel in The Daggar and the Coin series and I am very excited to read the already published second book. The characters are complex and are beautifully interwoven, the political and socio-economic environment are intricately designed, and the prose flows nicely. I recommend Abraham’s latest epic fantasy series and put it right on par with his space opera series, The Expanse.

Review: Caliban’s War by James S.A. Corey

Title: Caliban’s War

Author: James S.A. Corey


Publisher: Orbit

Format: Kindle eBook


Caliban’s War was everything I could have hoped for as a sequel to Leviathan Wakes. There’s a tendency for second novels in a trilogy to be fillers, serving merely as a bridge between the first and third books. But this is not the case with Caliban’s War — we are given greater plot complexity, more and better-developed characters, and a war between cultures that becomes real conflict instead of a mere backdrop.

One of the two viewpoint characters from Leviathan Wakes returns: Jim Holden, the good-natured, but internally conflicted captain who has been contracted by the OPA to defend the Belters. We are also introduced to three new viewpoint characters: Prax, a divorced father and prestigious botanist living on the Jovian moon, Ganymede; Avasarala, an elderly, peace-seeking, foul-mouthed UN diplomat; and Bobbie, a spunky Martian marine who is on Ganymede when disaster strikes.

When a protomolecular creature strikes Ganymede, the UN and Martian marines are annihilated and Bobbi finds herself as the lone military survivor. When the creature is destroyed without evidence, the UN begins to suspect that the attack was orchestrated by the Martians, escalating the cold war between them. Avasarla is desperate to keep peace and hires Bobbi to help discover the truth behind the attack.

Meanwhile, Prax discovers that his daughter, Mei, has been kidnapped by her doctor. Her strange autoimmune disorder seems connected to the latest conspiracy with the protomolecule, but Prax doesn’t understand how. With the help of Holden’s crew, they embark on a mission to find Mei and once again find the source of the latest biological attack.

Caliban’s War is everything I desire in a novel. The characters are flawed and have to overcome their own fears and shortcomings to resolve their external conflicts. The dialog is sharp and the action scenes are riveting. There are two major plot threads that interweave nicely. Yes, it is entirely contrived that all four of our viewpoint characters encounter one another and some of the science seems to fall a little short, but none of this detracts from the novel. It is a fantastic blend once again of space opera, mystery, and horror that has a very similar flavor to the previous novel.

I am very excited to read the next book in the series, but I am really hoping that it takes a large step in terms of being different and more complex. We don’t need another daughter to be kidnapped and I would like to see some resolution in the conflict between the Belters, the Earthers, and the Martians.

If you enjoyed Leviathan Wakes, you should be delighted in this follow-up novel. It doesn’t stand alone very well, so I would recommend new readers start off with the first book in the series. There really isn’t enough space opera in genre fiction today and Caliban’s War broadens the series into an epic scale that I can wrap my teeth around. I recommend you do the same.