Several centuries in the future, mankind has colonised the planets and asteroids of the solar system but war between Earth and Mars threatens. Those working in the outer asteroid belt – the Belters – have little time for the Inners and as time has gone by their bodies have evolved, lengthened, lightened to demonstrate their difference from those who live on the inner planets. Life is difficult, crowded, suspicious.
Leviathan Wakes tells the story of two men – Miller, a Belter detective on Ceres and Holden, the Commanding Officer from Earth on a water-hauler that mines ice-comets to replenish the tanks of Ceres and colonies in the belt. When Holden answers a distress signal from a derelict ship he discovers a mystery that others will pursue. His own vessel is torn apart and when Holden blames Martian technology tensions soar. But even when Holden and his surviving crew are handed over to Martian authorities, he is still pursued by violence and deadly force. On Ceres Detective Miller has been given a problem to solve, one that is secondary to his normal role supporting the status quo on this wild west frontier in the belt. He is told to find Julie Mao, a girl with a powerful background who comes to obsess Holden’s thoughts until nothing is as important as finding Julie.
Leviathan Wakes is a spectacular novel. The first in a space opera series it soars almost immediately and lays the solar system open to our exploration. From the horrific and compelling prologue, I was hooked. Much of the success is due, I think, to the division of the narrative into chapters that alternate been Holden and Miller. These are two very different men. One is still optimistic, with honour, wanting to do the right thing, to avenge his friends who are killed so pointlessly and instantly, while helping those who are caught in the blight that threatens the solar system.
Miller is jaded, divorced and cynical. This is no normal police force he works for – it is a security service paid for by the protection racket that just happens to be in power. But it’s clear that something is happening to unsettle these gangs and as tensions build between Earth and Mars and the Belters, and clues drop that Julie’s family may know something about it, his hunt for the missing girl takes him away from Ceres. Miller comes to believe that Julie may be the key to understanding the malevolent force that is threatening the system, even transforming it.
There is no let up in pace here. The book shuttles backwards and forwards between the two stories, drawing them ever closer. Action scenes are interspersed with passages of glorious description, bringing this entire world to life, whether aboard a spaceship, an asteroid or a planet. Characters are richly created, whether they manage to survive a chapter or not. Holden is always likeable whereas Miller is disturbing and dark. All the time, in the background, is Julie and the threat that shadows the solar system. Something truly evil, unknowable at best, is at work here and for much of the novel it’s difficult to tell whether it’s manmade or alien. But its impact on life is mindbendingly horrible and there are moments in this book that I will never forget. Even apart from the adventure, there is the fascinating social interplay that goes on between Earthers, Martians and Belters. The stars are out of reach – our solar system is crowded.
Leviathan Wakes grips from the beginning and it never lets up until the end and even then, while finishing in a satisfying manner, it makes you want to lurch onward to the next books in the series. I bought Caliban’s War and Abaddon’s Gate as I read this. The mix of adventure, mystery, great characters and superb worldbuilding is irresistible. Above all else, Leviathan Wakes is a good story very well told and I’m delighted to have embarked on this series and long may it continue.