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.