Expanse_123Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Caliban’s War by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Abaddon’s Gate by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wow! I just finished 57.5 hours of listening time in a week and a half and feel very satisfied. I got through the first book and decided that I couldn’t stop. I’ll just write my review of the first three books of James S.A. Corey’s The Expanse series instead of blogging each individually… Sounded like a good idea at the time. 😉

The Expanse series is more than just the three books featured here. There are two additional books that I’m looking forward to reading and a sixth book to be published next year. And for those of you who are interested, the Sci Fi Channel is making this into a TV series that starts in December 2015. There’s a lot of good content, so it will be interesting to see what Sci Fi does with the novels.

I have to say that so far this space opera, science fiction series is very enjoyable. I came upon this series based on the recommendation of a writer friend, he really enjoyed Caliban’s War and thought I would get a lot out of it both as a reader and as a writer. I am so glad that I took him up on his advice because I have grown as a writer and reader because of these stories.

Characterization

For me the best part of these books are the characters. They sound like real people to me with hopes, fears, ambitions and so much more. Some personalities stretch my imagination a little more than other, but hey — that’s people. I may not have agreed with everyone but that’s not the point, the point is that I believed that the characters thought, acted, and spoke true to who they were. Each chapter is told through the third person limited perspective of a specific character, some characters giving deeper POV than others. I think I liked Caliban’s War best because I enjoyed the characters in this novel most.

The main POV character throughout the novels is James Holden, he seems to be the anchor through out. I enjoy his idealistic, highly moral, self-righteous attitude and it was interesting to see how these aspects of his personality and self-identity changed throughout the course of 3 novels. Where was he forced to bend or simply work beyond his nature?

As strong as the characterization of these novels are, the stories are primarily plot driven. The main reason you are in certain people’s perspectives beyond Holden’s is mainly due to the fact that the reader needs to learn some important plot points. A hand full of the POV characters actually do some evolving through the stories, but Holden is the one that does the most changing. Everyone else is simply being who they are to pull out the outcome at the end of the story. I think the only other person besides Holden that does any real change from beginning to end is Clarissa Mao/Melba (in Abaddon’s Gate). Some people may argue that Detective Millar made some changes by the end of Leviathan Wakes but he just came off as a tired cop to me.

World Building

The world building in The Expanse is very detailed and based on science as we understand it today. Humans have expanded from Earth and have inhabited the Moon, Mars, Ceres and Eros in the solar system’s asteroid belt, Jupiter’s moons Ganymede and Europa, Saturn’s moon Phoebe, and as far out as Uranus’s moon Titania. It takes time to get from Earth out to the farthest reaches of the solar system. All of the starships, battleships, and future tech are described and their designs explained. A ship’s thrust is described in g’s to let the reader know that the ships move in terms of speeds relative to Earth’s gravity. And there are obvious physical constraints on humans when moving a high speeds and there are chemical workarounds at those high speeds.

An Earther, Martian, and Belter culture is developed and prejudices are developed as a result. The cultures of Earth mix and stay the same. Though everyone seems to speak English (though this has not been explicitly stated) there are a lot of languages spoken in outer space; the humans who occupy the belt have even mixed slang from Spanish, French, and a few other languages to create the belter lingo, which is naturally slipped into the narrative. Humans develop different in space than they do on Earth and the physical constraints are described and explained. We understand that gravity is a big factor in human physical evolution and if a person who lives off of Earth doesn’t train at Earth “g” levels, they can never go to Earth. All of this detail giving the experience of The Expanse series a realistic feeling.

Caliban’s War (The Expanse: book 2)

I first listened to Caliban’s War back in the summer of 2013 and thoroughly enjoyed it. The realism excited me, the characters excited me, the plot excited me. Hey the story is about alien monsters, secret government projects, and kidnapped children. (Did I mention my story is about secret government projects and kidnapped children? You can understand my heightened interest in this story.)

Now after going through the three books, Caliban’s War is still my favorite so far. This book got the most emotional response from me and I really loved the characters in this book.

  • Holden was going through a major identity crisis as he tries to deal with the horrors of his experiences on Eros, trying to recreate himself and find his ideals again, deciding what’s most important in his life.
  • Bobbie just kicked ass! Bobbie is a woman who knows who she is and how to use her strengths (both physically and emotionally) to get shit done. Sure she’s probably your typical strong military lady but she also had principles and was willing to deal with a bad situation and hope it turned out good in the end. I was sad to not see Bobbie appear in the third book.
  • Avasarala was a powerful woman who didn’t need to be physically powerful to get what she wanted; she used her mouth and her brains to manipulate people to do what she saw as the right things. Sure she was an overly cursing Auntie, but I’ve known plenty of those and imagined them every time she cursed or called the most powerful man in the UN a bobble head. I was also sad to not see Avasarala appear in book 3.
  • Prax was the most emotionally beaten character of the book and you just had to feel for the guy. His daughter is kidnapped, his home is destroyed, and people slander him without knowing any facts about him.
  • Of course this was also my first introduction to Holden’s Crew: Naomi Nagata, Alex Kamal, and Amos Burton. Each have their own stories that are hinted at but never fully explained, but they are each a pillar in Holden’s life. The four create a friendly, playful dynamic and keep each other in reality in their own unique ways.

This book was fairly fast paced. The beginning was action packed with kidnappings and firefights. The middle had it’s share of firefights and attempted rescues. The end had the biggest are we going to die moments followed by grand fights and grand rescue. There were quiet moments but I was so emotionally drawn into each character’s drama that I didn’t mind those slow moments.

I’m happy I went through this book again after listening to Leviathan Wakes because there were a lot more references to the first book that made a lot more sense, especially the moments when Naomi said that Holden seemed to be more like Miller than himself. I was able to understand the story at a deeper level than when I listened to it the first time. I also appreciate the pacing of this book more too.

Leviathan Wakes (The Expanse: book 1)

Over all I’m happy that I went through this book instead of skipping straight to book 3. This created a the foundation that I needed to enjoy the other books more, especially since the concept of Detective Miller played a big role in book 3.

I actually didn’t enjoy this book as much as I thought I would. I remembered liking Caliban’s War so much that I thought I’d feel the same about this book, but I didn’t. I think that it just ended up being a lot slower than I thought it would be.

For some reason I just wasn’t drawn into Detective Miller’s half of the story, sure I wanted to know what happened to the Julie (the girl at the beginning of the book), but Miller’s sections seemed to drag on and didn’t peak my interest. The benefit of Miller’s half of the story was to move the plot forward to the end and to paint the Earther/Belter relationship for the reader. You understand the political lines that have been drawn for the characters. Even though Holden is part of a mixed crew of Earthers, Martians, Belters everyone treated each other as humans and didn’t make a big deal about the fact that so-in-so is from wherever, everyone did their job and either lived or died.

Holden’s half of the book on the other hand was filled with one thing happening after another until the end. His story was the half that kept me going through the end. And as I mentioned before, his experiences and his survival is what makes the following books all make sense.

Abaddon’s Gate (The Expanse: book 3)

Abaddon’s Gate started slow too and there was a lot of background information given to the reader that I’m not sure why it was there. In fact there was a whole section of action that was basically copied and pasted from the middled to the beginning of the book. Was it to remind everyone that the book was about Holden and he’s in danger? Was it to give some strange time-warp effect to the reader? Very strange. But as the book progressed the intrigue became more and more compelling until we came to a big bang at the end. The interesting thing about this novel was how things kept getting worse and worse for everyone from the middle of the book until the end when one character decided to “make the change.” One thing I have to say is that at least there was a character change that coincided with the book’s climax. That was nice.

I was surprised to get a whole new cast of characters, but not disappointed in them, though it did take me a while to figure out why certain people had a POV at all.

  • I thought the addition of religion to the story was quite an interesting one. I’ve been thinking a lot about how religion may or may not change in the face of interstellar travel and it was interesting to get another perspective on the subject. I think that’s what made Anna so interesting to me.
  • Melba/Clarissa Mao was an enigma for me. She had the most hate and drive at the beginning of the novel and it was interested to see how her choices effected her. Though I must admit that I’m not 100% convinced of her motivations after the halfway point of the novel. I mean I think she started to see where she was going and reconsidering, but I’m not positive.
  • I think Bull was a plot pusher, which is sad because I think more could have been done with his character than there was. I think him going from selfishness to self-sacrificing felt a bit forced, which is too bad.
  • Holden went through a lot in this story, but mostly externally, there wasn’t much internal conflict for him except maybe dealing with his fear of being haunted by the protomolecule.

Conclusion

By the end of book 3 there were definite clues that there would be more stories to follow, but if it had to end here, I would be all right with how everything ended. But since I know there is so much more, I’m looking forward to listening to Cibola Burn (The Expanse book 4), though I think I’m going to hold off and read Wool by Hugh Howey before doing that and write a post on that book next month. Ah… So many books, so little time. lol 🙂

So, if you are looking for some exciting plot driven space opera science fiction, a story filled with complex characters that a lot of things happen to, exciting and bizarre alien technology, and plausible world building The Expanse series will be right up your alley.

Read On!

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