BOOK REVIEW: Caliban’s War by James S.A. Corey

SYNOPSIS: War threatens the solar system as forces react and move in a world rocked by the events detailed in Leviathan Wakes.

MY RATING:

MY REVIEW
PROS: strong classic Space Opera; excellent set pieces; intriguing new characters.
CONS: The characterization beats of longstanding characters continues; they are eclipsed by the new characters.
VERDICT: Another solidly entertaining space opera from the team of Abraham and Franck.

Caliban’s War takes off some months after the events of Leviathan Wakes, and ups the ante. In the wake of the heroic (and drastic) actions taken to avert a total catastrophe for humans, the powers in the Solar System have not been idle. In point of fact, metaphors about fighting in a burning house might be extremely appropriate.

Bobbie is a Martian Marine and a lucky survivor of a skirmish between Earth and Mars on Ganymede. Because of the tech used in that skirmish, and the possibility that someone is reverse-engineering alien technology, Bobbie finds herself extremely important and useful to the powers-that-be. And she’s useful to the reader, giving us a real soldier’s point of view in this universe.  One of those powers-that-be that our Martian Marine meets is Christen Avasarala, an elderly UN official who takes no guff from anyone. We also meet Prax, an unprepossessing botanist on Ganymede. His daughter, gone missing in the conflict on Ganymede, just might prove the key to the entire affair. It will not surprise you that James Holden and the crew of the Rocinante get themselves in the thick of this, as only Holden can.

Aside from characters, both old and new, much of the previous novel’s backdrop is used and seen in the new novel, although we do get to see a slew of new locations. There are scenes set on Earth itself, but it is when the action takes to space that the novel really sings and hums, allowing the reader to become fully immersed in this universe. There’s plenty of action on a variety of scales, from exploring an unknown and possibly hostile base to a racing battle between spacecraft. Realistic space battles that get the physics spot-on and that are still entertaining are rare in this genre. Caliban’s War uses narrative tension and characters, in addition to the physics, to achieve this effect.

The novel plays well with point-of-view, too. When characters meet and travel together, the text often shows us events in a leaping-forward method, switching up the POV’s. This technique allows the reader to see things from multiple perspectives, and build up a picture of both the events and the the characters. It’s extremely illuminating to see characters from the outside as well as the inside.  Characterization flaws and weaknesses found in the first novel, Leviathan Wakes, still seem to occasionally infect this novel, especially in some of the holdover characters. At certain points, their character beats felt artificial and dedicated to a result in the story rather than a natural outgrowth of their personality.

It would be hopeless for readers to start the Expanse universe here. Readers of Leviathan Wakes, who like what Franck and Abraham are doing with this space opera universe will be more than satisfied with Caliban’s War, even given the weaknesses above. The book is an entertaining read that does fall to the hazard’s of second novels.  Additionally, Caliban’s War ends on a cliffhanger, one designed to get readers of this book to want Abadon’s Gate, the third book in the series, coming in June 2013.

5 thoughts on “BOOK REVIEW: Caliban’s War by James S.A. Corey”

  1. Ah. Interesting.

    I actually felt that this work was weaker than its prequel/predecessor, though. The general problems with Caliban’s War for me were that, well, for one the pacing felt far too plodding here. Maybe it was an issue in the first book too, but there everything was new, so the hurdles were obscured by novelty. Here, there is little novelty due to heavy reuse of characters – obviously and inevitably – and thus pacing issues really stand out. I recall the generalmid-section of the work to be a particular culprit to this. On the whole, the story just seems to meander way too slowly over the first four-fifths or so. of course, there is a decent ramp-up in the rate of events near the end, but until that point it was, frankly, a pretty lazy and slow read. Not slow in terms of complexity, but slow in terms of in-story event progression rate.

    The characters staying over from Leviathan also didn’t really show any development, methinks. And that.. well, that’s not right. Either you keep the characters and develop them, or you kill them off / otherwise get rid of them. They can’t maintain the same state across the entire work. And of the new ones, well, some are just flat out boring. I think this novel in itself is a great example of why a politician as a protagonist seldom works (here, it really didn’t) in most fiction…

    Overall, I’d say that this sequel might have somewhat harmed the overall trilogy. The sequel, the middle part of a trilogy should be the bit where we have been introduced to the setting and the characters, and where the stereotypical ‘breakdown’ should happen – up the stakes, change the characters, make it darker, mess with the audience’s expectations… Instead, this was.. filler. It merely kept pace after the first work, and that’s not good enough, because the first work always has the factor of novelty. A sequel does not, so it has to make up for that lack in other areas, and Caliban’s War didn’t.

  2. Good review, and I agree with all of it. Abraham and Franck took a chance by not repeating the successful formula of the first book. They took a 90 degree turn and hared off in a direction I did not expect. Politician characters are usually thin as cardboard in sci fi but Avasarala is one of the most fully developed characters in the series and her political maneuvers really refreshed the narrative, IMO. I enjoyed Bobbie’s character arc too, and she’s also more developed than the characters in the first book.

    Caliban’s War did a better job than Leviathan Wakes of making me eager to read the next book in the series.

  3. Read both books of this series together.That was a lot of fun.enjoyed both greatly and look forward to the third,and must say,these characters and story situation could go longer than 3 books if the authors wanted to go with it.

    Would also make a great series of movies or tv series albeit expensive as hell.Love the characters,enjoy imperfect and all too human characters.Enjoyed the not over written politics,heroics and so forth.

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