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REVIEW: Leviathan Wakes by James A. Corey

REVIEW SUMMARY: Good, solid space opera.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A missing spaceship leads two men to track down its whereabouts, which enormous consequences and more that either imagined that they would find.

PROS: The world building, hands down, is some of the best that I’ve seen for a space opera novel, with a good cast of characters and story that go along with it.
CONS: A little too long, a little too much, when it comes to some of the characters and story.
BOTTOM LINE: Amongst the numerous sub genres of speculative fiction, this story reminds me of my formative years, reminding me of some of the greats in space opera. This novel feels like a breath of fresh air, trading in the galaxy for our solar system, but retaining an sense of the epic.

Leviathan Wakes is one of my more anticipated books of the year, the first novel of a new series called The Expanse. In it, humanity has moved into the neighborhood, to Mars, the asteroid belt, the outer planets, with whole societies developing amongst the planets. In this solar system, a ship vanishes, becoming the link between two characters and their stories: Holden, a ship’s captain and deep space miner, and Miller, a tired detective who’s been assigned to find a girl who was on the missing ship. From that point on, the stories alternate as both men and their various companions move forward trying to discover what happened to the ship, finding quite a lot more than they bargained for: system-wide conspiracy, insane scientists, and inter-planetary warfare, blending space opera and detective noir with its two main characters. This book has it all, and it’s included the rocket fuel.

Leviathan Wakes truly shines when it comes to world building, over the story. Every detail has been thought out, from the livelihoods of various peoples on different planets, to how the ships function, to politics, and how everything fits together in a mere 500-odd pages. The story feels like it’s been dropped into this intense world, where the terms are dictated by environment, and the two work extremely well together. There’s a ton of small details that are worth noting throughout the story, as small, innocuous things that are mentioned early on become major elements of the plot.

This book has everything in it, and at points, it’s almost a little too much. There’s the world-weary detective to the tough but optimistic pilot, and there’s a number of common elements that have been seen in space opera that finds its way in here, including space zombies, interplanetary ship to ship combat, and it both enriches the book to the point where it makes it very dense. The story takes its time, and some readers might find that they wish that a hundred or so pages were hacked off, but I think that would take away some of the fun. Leviathan Wakes feels like a book that’s solidly enjoyable, from point A to Z, and one that I found myself unable to put down.

There’s something incredibly comforting about Space Opera. It might not be technically correct, and I’m sure there will be those who will nitpick all the parts away, but alongside such stories like Iain M. Bank’s Culture series, Timothy Zahn’s Icarus Hunt, and numerous other entries, Leviathan Wakes is one that succeeds pretty well. It feels at points like a fantasy novel with its modern (sometimes clichéd) characters, world building and its outlook on the world, but at others, we have some grounding in science and all that that entails. This is only the first book in the series, and I’ll be interested to see where the next stories go, as this one was quite a bit in the first place. The world leaves a lot of room for follow-up stories, and leaves with the possibility of more at the end, for which I’m grateful.

In short, Leviathan Wakes is a book that was quite a lot of fun for me to read: it covered a lot of miles (billions, by the end of the story, I would reckon), and introduces an extremely well thought out world which wouldn’t surprise me if our future resembled it, at least in part. The Expanse is a series that’ll make a bit of a splash, and it’s time to fasten your seat belts: you’re in for a great ride.

About Andrew Liptak (180 Articles)
Andrew Liptak is a freelance writer and historian from Vermont. He is a 2014 graduate of the Launch Pad Astronomy Workshop, and has written for such places as Armchair General, io9, Kirkus Reviews, Lightspeed Magazine, and others. His first book, War Stories: New Military Science Fiction is now out from Apex Publications, and his next, The Future Machine: The Writers, Editors and Readers who Build Science Fiction is forthcoming from Jurassic London in 2015. He can be found over at and at @AndrewLiptak on Twitter.

4 Comments on REVIEW: Leviathan Wakes by James A. Corey

  1. For me, I get into moods for various subgenres of Fantasy and Science Fiction

    And sometimes, Andrew, only Space Opera will do.

    It sounds like when I get into Space Opera reading mode, that I should strongly consider reading this, based on your review.

  2. Thanks for the review. This sounds fun–not to mention the possible bromance!

  3. Nick Sharps // May 13, 2011 at 7:55 am //

    I’ve been really excited for this book. I’m not a real big fan of space opera (with the exception of Peter F. Hamilton’s Fallen Dragon) and I usually prefer my science fiction with a military twist but from an interview I watched a while back it sounded like this book had some solid action. I’m really excited for the world building too. Most space opera authors take their creations to the edges of the galaxy, it will be nice to see a story set firmly in our solar system. And the fact that the people in this story have believable jobs? Wonderful! I always read these stories about super soldiers and intergalactic conspiracies and wonder what the hell normal people do. It has become a bit of a pet peeve of mine. 

  4. Nick – this has quite a bit of military stuff in it. If it’s in science fiction, it’s probably represented somewhere. It feels very blue-collar for some of the people, and it’s really a good thing to see. 

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