Book Review: Leviathan Wakes

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In today’s world of graphic design, social media, and instant gratification, I think that you can, increasingly, judge a book by its cover. Of course, that’s not always true and it never stops sounding terrible to say aloud, but I’d be lying if I said that at least some of my purchases aren’t predicated on the quality of the cover design.

Vanity, more than anything, drew me to Leviathan Wakes, the first novel in James S.A. Corey’s The Expanse series. That, and it also has a kickass first sentence—which is another silly habit of mine that I tend to judge books on. I rarely venture into science fiction (for fear of there being too much science and not enough fiction, if you will) but Corey won me over in a quick blitz.

Leviathan Wakes is set several hundred years in the future where a technological wonder called the Epstein Drive allowed the ancestors of protagonists Jim Holden and Josephus Miller to settle Mars, the Asteroid Belt, and the Outer Planets. It’s a curiously limited advancement: Sol belongs to humanity but the stars remain well out of reach. As politics, revolutions, and vendettas threaten to tear the system apart a great conspiracy unfolds unlike any humanity has ever seen before.

I was thrilled by Leviathan Wakes because of the perfect balance it strikes between science and fiction. Corey’s future tries to stay as connected to reality and the laws of physics as possible, but the book remains accessible throughout. I’m reminded of another book that I read, 2312, which is premised on a similar concept but overwhelms the reader with hard science and pages on pages of technical descriptions that overload the plot.

Returning to Leviathan Wakes, readers are treated to hodgepodge cultures of the Belt, Earth, and Mars. While Jim is scouring the system in search of clues to identify the destroyers of his ship and crew, Miller is searching for a missing girl who is, somehow, at the center of it all. Security corporations run amok, United Nations black-ops teams, and Martian warships each make appearances that contribute to Leviathan Wakes being one of the most enjoyable and well-written space operas that I’ve ever read.

This first book in The Expanse series is a standalone novel, meaning that what you read is what you get. Corey has published three other novels, Abaddon’s GateCaliban’s War, and Cibola Burn as well as two smaller novels The Butcher of Anderson Station and Gods of Risk. I’m certain that I’ll return to this series in time, but it’s rare to encounter an excellent first-book that stands mightily on its own two feet as Leviathan Wakes does, and so I recommend it highly.

UP NEXT: A review of “The Bright of the Sky” by Kay Kenyon!

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Book Review: The White Rose

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The final installment in Glen Cook’s The Chronicles of the Black Company which are also known by the moniker ‘The Books of the North’ in the greater chronology of his Black Company series, The White Rose is very much unlike any finale that I’ve read to date. I shouldn’t be surprised because, if you’ve read my reviews of the previous novels The Black Company and Shadows Linger, then it’s obvious by now that Glen Cook knows how to weave a unique tale that simultaneously embraces and eschews the fantasy norms.

The White Rose resumes about four years after the conclusion of Shadows Linger and the ragged dregs of the Black Company have retreated to the Plain of Fear, a wild region of the world where windwhales and change storms sweep the coral-covered desert. After suffering the Black Company’s betrayal at Juniper, the Lady is tightening the noose around them on the Plain. Darling, the girl around whom magic ceases to work, is plotting the downfall of the Lady and her northern Empire when a familiar shadow casts itself across the north: the Dominator.

One of my few issues with this book is that the story comes dangerously close to be an almost exact retread of the plot from the second book. In The White Rose, our protagonists and antagonists find themselves at odds with one another but must band together, setting aside their personal differences temporarily, in order to subdue the greater evil. What The White Rose boasts that Shadows Linger never managed to accomplished, and luckily elevates it therein, is a more mythic feel that arises from the fantastic locations in which it is set. The Plain of Fear and the Barrowlands, bought lively and monstrous in their own ways, are so integral to the plot of the novel that they almost become their own characters respectively.

Another great feat is the continued humanization of the Lady. Cook, through Croaker, really takes to task the notion of good and evil. Through the Lady, readers are asked to consider the idea that people can do terrible things in the pursuit of a higher goal and, therefore, not necessarily be evil. The Lady has massacred hundreds of thousands in her effort to maintain power and, just as willingly, sacrifices even more to secure the world from the return of her malevolent husband. Darling is another unique break from the status quo because she projects a null, a field in which magic can’t work. Therefore, any lasting resolution to the question of the Lady and the Dominator will almost certainly involve her specifically for practical, if not prophetic, reasons.

Cook lines up the many displaced pieces of his story to tell the story of what must be done for the greater good, even if the resolution is far from whatever happy ending readers might feel entitled do. In essence, The White Rose is about people doing the work that needs to be done—fantastic, realistic, good, or bad.

Generally, I’m wary when recommending series. Typically, they require an investment with little promise of a worthy return. I can safely say that The Chronicles of the Black Company, the compendium volume that includes The Black Company, Shadows Linger, and The White Rose, is certainly worth the time of any reader looking for a series that will refresh their appreciation for the genre.

UP NEXT: A review of “Leviathan Wakes” by James S.A. Corey!