Leviathan Wakes was a Belter punk detective story in space opera clothing, and entertaining as hell, entertaining enough for me to set aside the books I was intending to read next and plunge right into the sequel. So what's the sequel, Caliban's War?
Man, the sequel is pretty much a horror novel with a sprinkling of military fiction in space opera clothing, innit? In fact, on reflection, it reminded me more than a bit of two favorites: the earlier Alien films, and Paul Elard Cooley's horror/petroleum punk The Black novels and, of course, Scott Sigler's Infected series. In fact, imagine a possibly omnipotent, physics-defying combination of those three menaces and set it in a human-settled solar system and you've pretty much got the protomolecule that is the main background threat of the Expanse series thus far.
So while I enjoyed meeting up with (almost) all of the characters I'd come to enjoy in the last novel, and my introduction to three new ones, it was really the horror/suspense elements of the plot, and the characters' (largely post-traumatic) reactions to them, that really kept me advancing the pages of Caliban's War. Especially the reactions. This book so successfully evoked the PTSD experience (at least as experienced by Your Humble Blogger) that it actually gave me quite a bit of trouble mid-novel. I won't say I had a full-blown attack, but I was pretty much a mess for the middle third of the story. Part of me is very upset about this, because triggering someone's PTSD is not at all nice, but the rest of me admires the effectiveness this had in absolutely freaking riveting me to what I was reading.**
But so, your mileage may vary there. A lot of people have whined that this book isn't as good as its predecessor (and they're not totally wrong in that lots of it does rehash/recycle elements from LW, right down to the Find the Missing Girl plot), but I don't see it. I was able to put the first one down, sometimes for days. This one, this one I barely slept.
But I wasn't just scared, reading CW. I also just enjoyed. I really dig all the characters from the first novel that carried over into this one (though I sure do miss [REDACTED]), and the new ones introduced here are just as great.*** Everybody gets a very satisfying character arc (well, except maybe Naomi, who has diminished into a stock girlfriend character who only occasionally gets to do something kind of important behind the scenes with her magical technological skills. Fix that, Coreys!) and their adventures with the Caliban-esque**** (in that they are supernaturally powerful beings imperfectly subjected to human will, only to of course throw off their chains and raise hell) protomolecular monsters are amazing, of course.
There was something else, though, that really fascinated me in CW, and that's the depiction of how Ganymede functions, and how it falls apart. Here the two-headed Corey monster really went to town, fully and convincingly realizing a complete world, a total artificial ecosystem on which not only its immediate inhabitants depend but on which most of the Outer Planets and the Belt do, too, and then tearing it all down in excruciating detail. It's kind of like watching a giant domino display of doom going down. Yes, I realize I'm probably a big ol' jerk for enjoying this aspect as much as I did. But I'm sure I'm not alone.
Now excuse me. I have to start on the next one. Because of [REDACTED] showing up at the end and not being [REDACTED] but instead [REDACTED]. Dude!
*Which, Bob help me, I always want to type -- and say -- as Leviathan's Wake. I'm sure there's something Freudian there but I don't care. It's just something that simultaneously amuses and annoys me.
**Much as in a full-blown event, I knew perfectly well that nothing was actually happening at the time and I was perfectly safe in my comfortable home and so was everybody else I care about, but knowing intellectually that nothing is wrong is not enough to stop me feeling it in my gut and shaking and crying, or to let me tear myself away from the horror show in my head. Because who wants to stop and do EMDR while reading a freaking sci-fi novel?
***Though man, the TV show sure did improve on Avasarala (even as the TV writers had to create her story out of whole cloth for the show, because she's not in the parts of the books that the first TV season covered). Not just because Shohreh Aghdashloo is fantastic and lends the character considerable gravitas and grace, but because she had to do something to get her point across besides swearing. I have no particular problem with cursing usually, but book-Avasarala relies entirely too much on the harmless-looking little old lady shocking everybody with F-bombs to get her point across. Jeebus!
****Read your damned Shakespeare.