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Leviathan Wakes (The Expanse) by James S.A. Corey
Cover Artist: Daniel Dociu
Review by Mel Jacob
Orbit Trade Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780316129084
Date: 15 June 2011 List Price $15.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /

James Cory's new trilogy, The Expanse, combines space opera with detective noir in the Leviathan Wakes. Captain Jim Holden and Detective Joe Miller join forces to save humanity from being taken over by a protovirus from beyond the stars. Holden, a retired UN officer cashiered from the service now serves as an executive office on a tug hauling ice bergs around the Asteroid Belt to keep the colonies and stations supplied with water. Miller is an embittered and jaded police detective on Ceres, one of the Belt worlds serving as a port for ore haulers and trade ships.

Holden witnesses the destruction of the Canterbury, the ice hauler on which he served, and is determined to find and punish those responsible. He and his team discover a false beacon on a derelict ship the Canterbury had diverted its course to save. Evidence suggests the beacon came from Mars. Holden immediately broadcasts an emergency message to all and sets off a war between the Belt and Mars.

Meanwhile, Miller struggles with a new partner from Earth who Belters distrust as they investigate petty crimes and murders. Miller is also assigned a case to locate a young woman from a wealthy family and ship her home. The more Miller learns of her, the more he grows to admire her. She came to the Belt and began working with a rebel group of Belters turning her back on her wealthy parents. Events conspire against him and he taken off the case, but he persists.

This well written novel explores ground covered by others. Detective noir in space, mostly with humor, has appeared elsewhere, but few have come as close as Cory to the roots of the genre. Notable attempts include D.B. Grady's Red Planet Noir, Tom Holt's Blonde Bombshell, Hannu Rajaniemi's The Quantum Thief, and Timothy Zahn's Odd Girl Out. Corey uses the settlements of the Belt in ways similar to other authors such as Ben Bova and Paul McAuley. Like McAuley's Gardens of the Sun, the Belters, Earth, and the domed cities of Mars are on the verge of war. Protogen, a private company may have instigated the war as it seeks to develop and control the protovirus. The virus takes over whatever biomass it encounters and turns it into a variety of horrors. The firm turns it loose on Eros, a sealed asteroid world, with over a million inhabitants, to see what it will do.

A few minor inconsistencies raise questions. The protovius thrives on radiation and yet the heroes seek to use neutron bombs against it. They face insurmountable odds, but always manage both physically and mentally to survive although they suffer from residual effects.

Sharp characterizations and strong motives drive the action and provide an edge-of-the-seat climax.. Holden is called 'a righteous man' by his colleagues as opposed to Miller, the quintessential loner, who wants to belong, but not to the extent he will sacrifice his own beliefs. His actions resemble Sydney Carton in Dickens's Tale of Two Cities. The next two books of the series are titled: Caliban's War and the Dandelion Sky giving readers a lot to anticipate.

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