Orbit, 2012, 583 pages
James S.A. Corey's best-selling hit Leviathan Wakes earned Hugo and Locus Award nominations. In Caliban's War, the second chapter of Corey's Expanse series, a desperate Earth politician works tirelessly to prevent war from reigniting. Meanwhile, upheaval takes root on Venus and Ganymede. And amidst this tumult, James Holden and his crew on the Rocinante are charged with the impossible task of saving humanity from a terrifying fate.
James S.A. Corey is a pen name for co-authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck. Their popular Expanse series is soon to be a TV series on SyFy.
Caliban's War is the second book in the Expanse series. The first book, Leviathan Wakes, was a good modern space opera with a classic feel; I've seen a lot of divided reviews concerning whether or not the second book is better than the first. Personally, I found Caliban's War an improvement, with a slightly more linear plot even if it takes a while to get there with four POV characters.
The world of the Expanse is (thus far) confined to Earth's solar system, with all the settled planets, moons, and asteroids divided between three major powers. Earth and Mars are the superpowers, formerly joined by common heritage but now increasingly close to going to war. The Outer Planets Alliance is akin to the upstart American colonies of the 18th century; once regarded as a joke by Earthers and Martians alike, but rapidly developing the military and economic power to challenge the homeworlds.
Returning from the first book is James Holden, the idealistic loudmouth who was once captain of an ice hauler, and is now in command of the Rocinante, a former Martian warship and now his own, working under contract for the Outer Planets Alliance. Having saved Earth from the alien protomolecule in the last book, he discovers it's now doing something out beyond the orbit of Uranus.
The second POV character is Bobbie Draper, a Martian marine of Polynesian ancestry who escapes being a wish-fulfillment character only because she is practically asexual in the book, and the few times her ample physical attributes are remarked upon or noticed, she mostly greets the reaction with an eye roll, then goes back to cleaning her gun. Running patrol on Ganymede, where Martian and Earth/UN troops have been staring at each other over a no-man's land since the last book, her platoon encounters an indestructible monster which appears to be the result of more nefarious corporate tampering with the alien protomolecule. Seeing all her men slaughtered motivates Bobbie's quest for revenge, which by circuitous paths eventually leads her to Earth, where she becomes the assistant to Chrisjen Avasarala, a UN diplomat who is trying to keep all the other idiots on all sides, including her own, from starting a system-wide war. If Bobbie is the obligatory kick-ass "Grrlz can do anything!" character, Avasarala is clearly the authors' darling and meant to be a fan favorite, a deceptively benign grandmother with an obscure bureaucratic title who is in fact one of the most powerful people in the solar system. She also swears the way most people breathe, dropping f-bombs in practically every line of dialog. (Actually, after a while this stopped being charming, as the authors didn't seem to have any other way to show how creatively profane she is than by dropping f-bombs.)
The fourth POV character was not terribly interesting in his own right: Prax, a scientist residing on Ganymede, witnesses the colony fall into post-apocalyptic anarchy. Just before the SHTF event, his daughter was abducted, and his quest to rescue her brings him aboard the Rocinante, and eventually, teamed up with Holden's crew, Bobbie, and Avasarala, all of them present for the big showdown between Earth, Mars, and OPA forces, just before the alien entity which has taken over Venus makes its big move which is the lead-in to book three.
So yes, Caliban's War is a bit less self-contained than the first book; it ends on a cliffhanger. I enjoyed the adventure, which still has the feel of a classic space opera written in modern style. While Leviathan Wakes mixed a bit of zombie apocalypse with detective noir into its space opera, Caliban's War is more Firefly and Alien with a few military SF ingredients.
Verdict: Being often disappointed by space opera that is either tiresomely derivative or badly written, the Expanse series is now one of my favorites. Caliban's War isn't perfect, but it's pretty darn good, and has me on board for the next one. 8/10.
Also by James S.A. Corey: My review of Leviathan Wakes.
My complete list of book reviews.