the Little Red Reviewer

Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey

Posted on: July 3, 2012

Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey

published in June 2011

where I got it: purchased new

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Be warned, this is a slightly spoilery review.

People keep trying to shoot Jim Holden .  First, while on a routine rescue mission his ship was attacked and he barely survived with his life. Then, taken prisoner by the Martian Navy, he and his remaining crew stole a ship and escaped, and then got shot at. A lot.  Everyone wants Jim and his crew, and no one will tell them why. No one will tell them what was on that first disabled ship they tried to board to save souls or salvage, no one will tell them who blew it out of the sky, and why everyone who witnessed it is dead.

An ex-Navy man from Earth, Jim Holden realized he was too idealistic for the Navy of the inner planets. After a few bad experiences, he signed on as XO with an ice hauling crew doing the Saturn – Belt run, and he’s been in heaven ever since. With the few surviving members of his crew and now answering to Captain, Holden’s got to find out who is least interested in killing him, and he’s got to find out fast.

oh, and his crew? Probably the best part of the book. I’m not sure which I liked better, the perfectly done characterization or the hilarious and dry dialog. Acting XO is Naomi, who doesn’t do so well under pressure but does keep Jim from being completely stupid; Alex the weak stomached pilot; and Amos, the brawler mechanic who swears creatively and reminded me of what Jayne could have grown up to be, which made me like him even more.

Meanwhile in the carved out asteroid Ceres Detective Miller looks for a lost girl. Her parents contracted his employer to find her, and he got stuck with the gig. He does his normal routine, check out her apartment, peek through photos, read her e-mail, see who she’s been hanging out with. When clues begin to materialize, Miller is violently taken off the case. Shortly afterwards, Ceres erupts in riots. The organized crime element of the place has just taken over.

A sprawling space opera, Leviathan Wakes is what happens when you take humanity and fling them through the solar system. People born in low gravity are longer limbed and skinnier, people born in heavy gravity are more squat. Instead of everyone looking alike and hating each other, we now look very different, and still hate each other. Tensions are high between the Inners (Earth and Mars) and the Outer Planetary Alliance (everything from the asteroid belt on out). To start a full scale war, all it would take is one little incident. Kill some marines, blow up a science station, impound a few water haulers, anything that you can blame on any group you don’t like. Add into this mix a depressed alcoholic detective and an ice hauler crew who don’t have a death wish, and you’ve got the recipe for one helluva Space Opera.

Miller and Holden’s lives intersect when they find the body of a young woman. She’s been ravaged, destroyed, mutilated, by something that infected her body and ripped it apart from the inside out.  Whatever this thing is, it isn’t native, and it’s very, very hungry. The plot takes a shiny  left turn at this point and my opinion changed from “this is one of the most incredible space operas I have ever read” to “this is one of the scariest space operas I’ve ever read and that’s awesome!”.

Yes, I just spoiled one of the surprises for you. But I did it with the best of intentions because it allows me to say this: Leviathan Wakes was everything I’d hoped Ridley Scott’s Prometheus would be – intelligent writing, gripping plot,entertaining dialog, characters who continually kept my interest, and the scariest fucking alien virus to come along in a while.

From start to finish, Leviathan Wakes was absolutely excellent. Corey takes us with ease from one plot line to another, alternating chapters between Miller’s  point of view and Holden’s, even after they meet each other.  As you can probably tell, there are some other plot lines going on as well, and likewise, Corey weaves them in deftly, often allowing the reader to fill in the blanks through dialog and showing instead of telling. Also, must mention it again – the dialog is truly inspired.

In fact, I’m not sure which was most impressive – the stunningly incredible characterization, the excellent dialog and prose, or the wonderfully addictive and well paced plot.  I think Iain M. Banks just met his match.  James S. A. Corey is the pen name of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, so perhaps I should say he’s met his matches.

You know how I know I really loved this book? confession time: I suck with names. Always have, probably always will.  While reading a book, I often have to write down the characters names, because even though I’m starring at them on a page for hours, there’s a good chance I’ll forget them the moment I put the book down (this is probably why I do better with single protag books as opposed to ensemble pieces). And then I end up describing the book as “there’s this guy, and he’s in a spaceship, and he kinda has a crush on this girl but he doesn’t know how to tell her, and he’s so idealistic and naive that you want to laugh and hug him and slap him all at the same time, and there’s this other guy who is a detective and there’s all this anti-Earth racism in his department but his partner is an Earther so it’s awkward, and the detective guy he’s really missing his ex-wife and he accidentally falls in love with the missing girl he’s supposed to be finding and it’s totally noir, and man, when he falls apart, it’s just so scorching . . . .  .”

How I knew I loved Leviathan Wakes? I remember everyone’s name, even the dead girl. And I’m pretty sure their names will be with me for a long, long time. If you are looking for a good space opera, look no further, you’ve found it.

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16 Responses to "Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey"

I enthusiastically second this review. I loved every minute of Leviathan Wakes. Just damn fun.

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i know! i haven’t had this much fun in a book in a while. i picked it up expecting a fairly standard space opera, so the hilarious dialog and deep characterization was a wonderful surprise.

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wow this book sounds insane in a good way!

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there is some crazy stuff that happens, but the book is very focused, so it’s not quite as insane as I made it sound. but you should give it a try!

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I am eagerly looking forward to reading this book when I finish the one I’m currently working on. I’ve heard so many good things!

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let know what you think of it when you get to it. :)

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I enjoyed Leviathan Wakes, but I didn’t love it at much as you did, but I love reading a review from someone who loved a book as much as you obviously did this one.
I did love Naomi though, she was awesome.

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Naomi was so incredible, I want her to be a real person! and yes, I really did love this one.

wandering away to read your review. . .

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I’m with Fence, as you do doubt saw in my review (also up yesterday), but this is a very good book. You’ll want to check out THE BUTCHER OF ANDERSON STATION ebook about Fred. I have Caliban’s War here but will read some mysteries before I tackle it. Are you going straight on to it?

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must. get. ereader!

it might be a few months before I dive into Caliban’s War. I haven’t gotten a copy yet, and I really need to tackle some of the other stuff on my reading stack before adding to the list. If you pick it up, let me know, so i can be sure to keep an eye out for your review. You are going to read it, eventually, right?

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So, did you really like it then or what! Your review makes me want to read this even though I’m not particularly a sci-fi reader – I’m teerering on the edge of indecision. Will think on it some more and maybe take the plunge.
Lynn :D

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i will make a scifi lover out of you yet, young lady! ;)

but seriously, find a copy of this at the library, or have them order you a copy. Read it for one hour. if you like it, keep going, and if not, you haven’t lost anything but an hour of your time. it is a fat book, but it reads really fast.

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I liked Leviathan Wakes, but definitely did not love it as many other readers have. I think this is partly because Miller’s character felt too detective-y stereotype for me. I liked Holden and Naomi was probably my favorite character (though I rather wish she’d have gotten a little bit more screentime), but it all amounted to a pleasant read, not anything mind-blowing. Different tastes, I suppose…

Also: as a reader who is also terrible with names, I know exactly what you mean. When I remember the names of the characters, clearly the book did something right!

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I will definitely give you that, that Miller got a little too noir for me, especially in the middle section of the book. His detectiveness got downright draggy at times. but it was a small price to pay.

yay, for a fellow reader who also suffers from “what the hell was that character’s name? syndrome!

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I just finished reading this one a few days ago! I was looking forward to it, since I’ve really liked some of Daniel Abraham’s work, and I was not disappointed.

I agree with your comment about Prometheus. It would be really cool if Leviathan Wakes was actually made into a film.

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[…] so there will be spoilers, some major,  for the first book in the series, Leviathan Wakes (review here).  Ok, so spoilers is bad news. but the good news is, I think you could start with Caliban’s War […]

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