Is it fair to still give the same rating to the sequel, which, in part, could be considered to be better than the first BUT since I'm reticent to hand out more than one 10 Rating a year for fear of being marked 'too easy to please'? Could I see how this work could have been improved? Not really. Could there be anything about the work that seemed 'off' or incomplete, as though it had been rushed or offer the opportunity for a childish slighting of some description just to justify my pathological fear of being judged dimly by my peers? Perhaps, but I didn't spot it...
In fact, I feel it's fair to say that I'd already ordered the seuqel to Leviathan's Wake before I'd even completed the first book because I wanted to know where this was going and hoped, almost prayed to the Gods of Decent Fiction and Storytelling, that the sequel wouldn't just be that book that got turfed out of the publishers office because the first one did well and it'd sell alright just because the first one got rave reviews and George R. R. Martin's name got thrown on the cover. To say that I am relieved and pleasureably saisfied would be a thorough understatement.
The book, sitting slightly shy of a proud 600 pages, starts approximately 9 months after the conclusion of Leviathan Wakes and follows the Crew of the Rocinante, under the dysfunctional command of James Holden, but while the first book hopped us between Detective Miller and Holden, Caliban's War flips us between Holden, a desperate father and botanist / biologist / ecosystems engineer Praxidike Meng, Gunnery Sargaent Roberta Draper and the UN Assistant Undersecretary and potty mouth Chisjen Avasarala.
If you read the back of the book, you're going to see comments that essentially compare The Expanse series to Star Wars -'If Leviathan Wakes was Star Wars... then this is The Empire Strikes Back...' and, to some extent, there's some truth in that, as long as you keep in mind that The Expanse story line is aboslutely nothing like Star Wars, the latter being based entirely on super science with power sources and technological miniturisation that never gets explained to any level of canon, while The Expanse revels in its plausability and distinct lack of 'hyperspace'.
What really brings Caliban's War to life as a book determined to provide a more epic flavour to the series is the inclusion of the politician Avasarala, a subject in much literature that can drive me utterly out of my mind with boredom. Seriously, how does anyone get round to reading political dramas for fun? How can you possibly be interested in it? He said this and then drank some wine and then argued over that because he said, she said 'your mom...'. Bores me rigid! Until I met this grandmother, dressed in her brightly coloured saris, adhoration for her husband and her family and the filthiest, meanest vernacular I've ever met in a book. It comes to her naturally like venom comes from snakes and violence comes from protomolecule infested rage-beings. And it worked! I thoroughly expected, judging by her prolific use of the foulest language used by an elderly lady, that it was to assist the writers conjure up this characer that would fit perfectly in to place with a book that doesn't leave a page spare. It is also through her and Bobbie, the Gunny, that the reader is introduced to Earth and the future that awaits us in their universe, touching on topics like education, political mediation, military science, economics and interplanertary wheeling and dealing. Not to mentioned that the two characters are a wonderful foil for one another.
The other character that the reader is going to spend a lot of time observing is the father figure and the books science consultant, Prax. He starts in a bad place, hunting for his daughter on an ice station that is falling apart in a way that he can describe to the reader all too well, and thusly the reader realises exactly how entirely bad the situation is getting as Ganymede falls further and further in to disarray. While being a somewhat impractical character and seemingly socially unpracticed, he lends to the crew of the Rocinante and the overall feeling of the book a sense of Humanity which some of the characters are slowly losing as they are tested by the resurgence of a new protomolecular crisis.
The whole while the adventure unfolds and the mysterious cabals get their nefarious shenanigans moving, there is a growing sense of dread and threat from the surface of Venus. For those that have not gotten round to reading the first book, I shall say no more, as, to be honest, it wouldn't make a bit of sense to you. For those of you that have, it's safe for me to say that Caliban's War is a chance to really build on the strangeness of the Protomolecule and the critical threat it poses: no good news ever comes from Venus throghout the book, and in fact it spirals toward further horror and confusion.
While Leviathan Wakes contains a distinct horror flavour to it as the story progresses further to the terror that is 'The Eros Incident', Caliban's War doesn't. It swaps out the horror for the political intrigue and the rounded focus on the major bodies operating in our solar system, namely the UN, Earth's Governement, the Martian Governement and the Outer Planets Alliance (OPA), with whom there is a brief visit to Tycho once more. These crescendos find themselves exploding in to sudden a terrible acts of blood soaked violence and the threat of horror (if you really care to distinguish one from the other, that is).
In short, I loved this book and I was thoroughly over-joyed to discover that they hadn't just battered out a sequel but thought about their characters and allowed each of them to grow, especially Holden, Naomi, Amos and Alex whose portrayals in the TV show have yet to be determined, though the inclusion of Thomas Jane as Detective Miller leaves a few interesting questions about how much money is actually getting sunk in to the project by the likes of Syfy whose track record with their own shows has been less than inspiring, but have promised a more loyal science fiction mandate for the future and The Expanse show could be proof of that.
Caliban's War is the second book in The Expanse series by James S. A. Corey, published by Orbit, and is also available as an e-book.