The Expanse, #2 – Caliban’s War (BOOK REVIEW)


To say that I didn’t enjoy Leviathan Wakes, the first book in James S. A. Corey’s Expanse series, would be… a stretch. But in comparison to its sequel Caliban’s War, there really isn’t any comparison. The book far outshines its predecessor. The first book was dark, gloomy, and an all-around nightmare in space. Caliban’s War was all that, but never shied away from hopefulness – something Leviathan Wakes sorely lacked. It was the hopeful tone that made the characters seem all the more human, all the more relatable and enjoyable.

But first let’s dissect the title a little. “Leviathan Wakes” is most likely a biblical reference. Job chapters 40-41 explain that God humbled Job by showing him visions of some of his other works, the behemoth and the “leviathan” (possibly the crocodile). The authors comprising James S. A. Corey used the term to note that the leviathan (or the proto-molecule, an ancient powerful alien weapon/lifeform that quickly kills and evolves) has finally awoken, that the threat is finally realized. But the name “Caliban’s War” is far, far more ambiguous. Caliban, as a character, derives from William Shakespeare’s play ‘The Tempest,’ where he is the son of the evil witch Sycorax. He is often portrayed as being grotesque, deformed, and/or animalistic in quality. So if “Caliban” in the title is referring to the “proto-molecule” of the book (which now resides on Venus), to whom is it warring with? Although much of the book revolved around the threat the enemy posed, it was really the struggle between earth and mars still attempting to weaponize the substance and warring each other in the shadows of space. The title then suggests that although it was their war, the proto-molecule was directly affected, or directly involved, behind the scenes somehow.

Sorry, that was a mouthful. Let’s take a step back. The book takes place nearly a year after the events of Leviathan Wakes. The proto-molecule is now doing its own thing, terraforming Venus, but mostly leaving everyone else alone. We are introduced to a slew of new characters, the first being a young 4-year old girl named May, who has grown up on Ganymede, and is suddenly taken away by her doctor, just before all hell breaks loose on the station. Her father, a scientist named Prax, goes to all lengths to find her, even going so far as to hire James Holden, the space cowboy and general hero from the first novel. We learn that the reason war breaks out on Ganymede is because someone has secretly weaponized the proto-molecule and has sent it out for a test run, although it quickly vanishes and most of those involved were killed. The only one not killed was marine Bobbie Draper, who is sent to earth to speak to the UN on the subject and is hired by an older Indian woman within the UN named Chrisjen Avasarala. Eventually all parties meet and boom. Stuff goes down.

As I mentioned in my review for the first book, this is definitely not a novel or series meant for younger readers. James S. A. Corey has a strange fascination with a certain expletive which may or may not be derived for unlawful carnal knowledge, and it does become obtrusive. Odd enough, resident potty-mouth of Leviathan Wakes, Amos, is far more still-tongued in this outing, while newcomer old-lady Avasarala uses profanity in reckless abandon. The book points out “it’s part of her charm.” Whether this aspect of the writing will be present in the television series produced by Syfy, I do not know.

The search for May Meng in this book appropriately parallels Detective Miller’s fanatical search for Julie Andromeda Mao in the first, but it leads to a far more satisfying conclusion. I loved the entire arc in which Prax, the oddball scientist, traveled with Holden and his team in search for her. It was beautiful, tragic, lonely, and heartwarming all in one.

The James Holden of the first book is now noticeably different in this novel. He’s no longer the all out good guy, but he now is a far more flawed being, and his crew members do notice and react accordingly. I felt the dynamic of him learning to regain and rediscover himself, along with the rediscovery of his love and his team all gave the book a sense of personal growth. I’m excited to find out what will become of the Rocinante and her crew, as they are no longer slaves of the OPA and can become freelance goodguys on their own terms.

Throughout the book, despite the personal growth, the search for May, the hopefulness and other, the true underlying threat still remains, unknown and evolving away on Venus. The fact that the humans are still attempting to use the proto-molecule as a form of weaponization is both disgusting and typical, but ultimately makes for darn good drama. I thought the grasp of physics and the laws of probability and the play of gravity and the realistic danger of interplanetary travel really do throw you into a futuristic space-faring mindset, and was ultimately done far better than the first novel. I really liked this book, as you can tell by the score I gave it, and hope the rest of the series will be equally impressive.

Grab it in:
Paperback | eBook | Audible
Book #1 – Leviathan Wakes:
My Review | Paperback | eBook | Audible
Book #3 – Abaddon’s Gate:
My Review | Paperback | eBook | Audible
Book #4 – Cibola Burn:
My Review | Paperback | eBook | Audible
Book #5 – Nemesis Games:
My ReviewHardcover | eBook | Audible

5 thoughts on “The Expanse, #2 – Caliban’s War (BOOK REVIEW)

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