From book #1: Leviathan Wakes
Humanity has colonized the solar system—Mars, the Moon, the Asteroid Belt and beyond—but the stars are still out of our reach.
Jim Holden is XO of an ice miner making runs from the rings of Saturn to the mining stations of the Belt. When he and his crew stumble upon a derelict ship, the Scopuli, they find themselves in possession of a secret they never wanted. A secret that someone is willing to kill for—and kill on a scale unfathomable to Jim and his crew. War is brewing in the system unless he can find out who left the ship and why.
Detective Miller is looking for a girl. One girl in a system of billions, but her parents have money and money talks. When the trail leads him to the Scopuli and rebel sympathizer Holden, he realizes that this girl may be the key to everything.
Holden and Miller must thread the needle between the Earth government, the Outer Planet revolutionaries, and secretive corporations—and the odds are against them. But out in the Belt, the rules are different, and one small ship can change the fate of the universe.
I first became aware of The Expanse through the TV show adaptation. I absolutely loved the show, so decided to read the completed book series this year. I won’t be using this review to compare the books with the show; I’m just going to focus on the book series as a whole, with my reflections and thoughts on one of the best sci-fi series of a generation.
From the minds of authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, writing under the pen name of James S.A. Corey, The Expanse is a character driven space-opera. Intricately plotted, with a focus on humanity that is equal parts philosophical, reflective, and speculative.
The series takes place in a distant future in our solar system, and expands beyond in later books. The series can be divided into three distinct trilogies, but with overarching character arcs and storylines that thread their way throughout the series. Each book, story arc, or trilogy, within the series, is not always brilliant on its own, but you have to remember that each piece in the puzzle is necessary to complete the whole. The payoff is worth it. Overall, for a series that covers so much ground, characters, and time, it comes to a satisfactory conclusion.
So, back to the beginning. Leviathan Wakes sets the series up perfectly, with intrigue, politics, factions, and action. With a sci-fi noir feel, this book draws you into the gritty, dark underground of the belt and the dangers of deep space.
The world is building superb. The colonisation of the planets, moons and asteroids in the belt, are brought to life with a clarity that is believable. As with all good speculative science-fiction, this future vision of humanity holds a mirror up to our own past, present, and a possible future. Thematically strong, the series explores every facet of humanity, from the individual to the collective. Religion, politics, culture, scientific exploration, colonisation, war, terrorism, business, poverty, crime, family, friendship, love – you name it, the Expanse has it. Despite covering a lot of difficult and fractious topics, none of it is ever watered down. Everything has its relevance and place within the story.
Ultimately, it’s the characters that drive the stories, keeping the focus on humanity – the good, the bad, and the ugly. Told from multiple, and varying POVs across the series, there is a huge cast of characters. Think A Song of Ice and Fire, but in space. Despite new and shifting POVs in each novel, there are constant and recurring POVs that work to bring cohesion to the overarching plot. The relationships evolve throughout, with more depth and strands to make you care about what happens to them.
This series also has two of my favourite characters in fiction – Amos Burton and Chrisjen Avasarala. Both are phenomenally written. I know I said I wouldn’t mention any comparisons with the show, but I have to say that the casting for these two in particular is perfect, and it’s in no small part due to the great characterization within the novels that they are so awesome in show too.
Burton, in particular, is one of the most complex and intriguing characters. Initially, he comes across as a two-dimensional knuckle head, but it soon becomes apparent that there are hidden depths beyond the tough-guy façade. Over the duration of the series, his arc is one of the more fascinating aspects, making him a stand out of the entire piece for me.
There is so much more to this series than I can put into a series review, without including spoilers. So, to sum up: if you are a fan of space-opera, space travel, colonisation, first contact, politics, war, strong characters, intricate plotting, and epic realistic space battles, then there is something for everyone in this expansively epic sci-fi series.
Further suggested reading…
For a complete experience, I also recommend the short story/novella collection that accompanies the series, Memory’s Legion.