Caliban’s War by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
You may notice that the actual score is a little lower than Leviathan Wakes. In some ways this book is much better than it’s predecessor, but in other ways I felt like the book lagged. The biggest detriment to this book is actually the similar structure to the previous book. That said, I found myself constantly intrigued and wanting to know more about what was going on. The havoc that the protomolecule causes is increasingly interesting and dangerous. As we learn more of this dangerous alien weaponry, it’s fascinating how the different factions respond and how our characters get caught in the midst of it all.
Let’s start out with the structure which was probably the novel’s biggest detriment. Many series follow this structure where the second book basically replicates the same structure of the first book with some early variances and a slightly different plot. The first series that comes to mind is The Hunger Games. Trust me, this is nothing like the hunger games except in the fact that structure is echoed in this second book. The problem with that is you already know when certain beats are going to hit. Sure, you may not know exactly what it will be, but you know when. A good novel lays clues toward where it is headed, so for a keen reader when the structure echoes a previous novel you get an idea of what is going to happen. It was that slight level of predictability that made me take away points for this novel.
Again we are introduced to a character who is in a precarious situation. In this case it is a little girl, Mei Meng living on Ganymede who is abducted. Again this is the only real chapter we have with her before we are whisked into the plot. Yet again it was another we need to find this girl plot that we are following similar to what went on in the last book with Julie Mao.
This time around we get to follow four characters. Again we are with Holden, but three new characters are thrown into the mix with Bobbie Draper the Martian, military girl, Chrisjen Avasarala, the shrewd and crude United Nations politician, and Prax Meng, the father of Mai and a Ganymede botanist. Each bring something different to the story. However like we saw previously in the last book as events progress, more of these characters are brought together condensing their individual threads until they are all weaved together.
I’ll start with my boy Holden. Along with his crew he’s been floating the galaxy acting as Fred Johnson’s proxy police for the past year. The most notable change is in Holden’s behavior. Over the past year he’s begun to take on some of Miller’s traits, namely being judge, jury, and executioner. Holden now shoots first and then asks questions. It’s something that bothers Holden and Naomi. Throughout the course of the novel we get to see as Holden struggles with what he’s become, how he deals with it, and when at times it is okay to do such things. This struggle is interesting as it goes against who Holden is at his core. Holden is still my favorite character, even if he doesn’t always make the best decisions. He’s still confident and sure about what he’s going to do.
Chrisjen Avasarala gave Holden a run for the money as my favorite character. There’s something about how blunt Avasarala is. The fact that she calls her a superior a bobble-head not just behind his back, but to his face gives a slight example of her charm. She is an intelligent woman who is always playing every angle that she can. However, what became apparent as the story went on was that she is not infallible. She can be manipulated to, but where Avasarala stands out is that she doesn’t give up and pushes until she comes out on top. I was always thrilled when I stumbled across another chapter with Avasarala, if only to see what she will say next.
Another of the new characters is Bobbie Draper. We are introduced to her quickly in the novel and it becomes quickly apparent that while she can be a bit of a whiner, she is extremely capable. This led to more frustration for me than I would have liked. Bobbie is quickly taken out of her element and thrown into a world of politics. This makes Bobbie very much a fish out of water as she is not in her arena of expertise and on top of that not even on her own planet. She’s struggling with her loyalty. Slowly Bobbie begins to sink into things. It’s a shame that once she does she’s removed from the situation and put back into her element. Ultimately it was a good thing because I enjoyed Bobbie a lot more when she was in a position where she was more confident and facing her fears head on.
Then there was Prax. From Prax’s very first chapter I didn’t like him. It’s not like he infuriated me or that he was even a bad character. Prax was just weak and single-minded to the point that it made him foolish when he was actually brilliant. I guess I can understand the panic he felt and how that ramped up in the moments where they came close. However, time and time again rather than listening to people who knew how to command a situation, he did his own thing often making things worse. Things got better when he started to eat more food and his cognitive function improved, but he was still a bit hasty. It took quite a while before Prax slipped from an annoyance to an okay character, but even he managed it.
As I mentioned the plot was four separate threads that became to interweave until they were so connected that there was no way they could be separated. yet again at the heart of it was the protomolecule which is proving to be the most dangerous thing in the galaxy that we’ve seen so far. The more we see of the protomolecule and what it can do the more terrified I become. That said, this plot brought the various factions into a very interesting position. People are starting to realize that this protomolecule is not something that humans can just mess with and not potentially destroy all of humankind. How the different governing bodies arise to this new threat will be interesting to see going forward as it inevitably grows stronger.
Caliban’s War proved to be another interesting novel that raised the stakes even higher. It was interesting and complex mixing family drama, with personal trauma and politics in a way that delivers elements that many people could find something to grasp on to. One things is clear, The Expanse is one of my favorite series now. I just hope things stay this good.