Caliban’s War by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
What I like most about The Expanse series of books by James S.A. Corey so far are the characters. They are interesting, relatively complex, often very funny, and come from many different backgrounds (including fictional backgrounds like “Belters” – the population of humans who were born and for the most part live their entire lives in the Asteroid Belt, far from Earth and its gravity, resulting in fascinating physiological, cultural, and language differences.) In the second book, Caliban’s War, a few new characters are introduced, including my new favorite, Bobbie Draper, a Martian Marine. Her story is one of two frames, beginning right after the prologue that introduces the mystery, and takes a particularly satisfying story arc from a PTSD-inducing attack to recovery and justice of sorts.
Along the way, other fantastic new characters are given space, including Chrisjen Avasarala, the United Nations Assistant Undersecretary of Executive Administration, and Praxidike Meng, a botanist on Ganymede. As the plot unfolds, the characters are moved around like chess pieces to solve the larger mystery and confront the larger threat. At times, I felt the positioning and meeting of characters was a little too predictable and obvious; the characters became plot devices that need to be placed in particular spots for the plot to progress. This sometimes took me momentarily out of the story. What follows their placement, however, generally captivated me. The plot is very exciting, often very suspenseful, and I read through much of the book very quickly.
Some of my favorite characters from the previous book, including the amazing crew of the Rocinante, return. Set about 18 months after the events of Leviathan Wakes, Caliban’s War finds captain Jim Holden a changed man suffering from psychological trauma related to what happened on Eros. I felt this character arc became a little melodramatic but it was also very satisfying, because you cannot help but root for him and Naomi Nagata, and also Amos Burton and Alex Kamal, as the crew reconsiders their mission.
I loved the settings throughout the solar system as well as the descriptions of the hardware. The alien protomolecules are absolutely horrifying and lead to our heroes finding themselves in some incredibly tense and frightening situations. Some of these are similar to those in the previous book and felt to me slightly repetitive. I hope the later books in the series go in new directions. They were really exciting and well-written, however, and the overall plot of the series is definitely moved forward.
The book ends with a whopper of a cliffhanger that manages to be both surprising and frightening. I cannot wait to jump into the next book!
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