Caliban’s War is book 2 in the Expanse series, following Leviathan Wakes. Please note this review contains spoilers for Leviathan Wakes.
It has been one year since the moon Eros crashed in to Venus, delivering the protomolecule to its new home. In that year, Venus has undergone a terrifying change as the protomolecule appears to mutate, expanding its powers and capability and unnerving the various human governments. Elsewhere, James Holden and the crew of the Rocinante are working for the Outer Planets Alliance chasing pirates and running escort missions for OPA transports. On Ganymede, breadbox of the solar system, a war has erupted between Martian and United Nations forces. Dr. Prax Meng, a botanist working on Ganymede, has his life turned upside down when his daughter Mei goes missing during the firefight. On Earth, Chisjen Avasarala, the Assistant Undersecretary to the Secretary General of the United Nations, is left trying to sort out what happened on Ganymede and what it has to do with the rapidly evolving situation on Venus. Assisting her is Martian marine Gunnery Sergeant Bobbie Draper, the only survivor of the battle on Ganymede and now a reluctant ally to her sworn enemies. Bobbie has the evidence for what really happened on Ganymede; another secret experiment with the protomolecule. As the situation gets worse unlikely alliances are forged and old ones break. Soon everyone is fighting for their lives as a system spanning war threatens to break out and the entity on Venus begins to emerge.
Following Leviathan Wakes is no easy task but Caliban’s War improves on its predecessor delivering a rich, exciting story filled with characters you want to spend more time with. Where Leviathan Wakes had a very strong noirish mystery at its center, Caliban’s War increases the intensity so that even the smallest gunfight is fraught with tension. This is a universe on the brink and the book rarely lets you forget it. Even as the various factions engage in their power plays there is always Venus in the back of everyone’s mind. Ships are stationed around it taking readings, trying to make sense of the data they are seeing. All anyone knows is the planet is changing and an alien intelligence appears to be forming. No one knows what that will mean.
The strength in Caliban’s War really comes from the new characters, all of which are great fun. The best is the feisty Chrisjen Avasarala. She is a shrewd power broker who always speaks her mind and makes sure her enemies know what will happen if they mess with her. Her language is colorful which serves as a cunning mask for how intelligent she really is. Bobbie is driven to avenge her squad mates for the fiasco on Ganymede but is forced to reconsider her engrained views of Martian vs Earth society. Prax is high strung, fiercely intelligent, and dedicated to finding his daughter and bringing her home. While he has no combat experience there are times where his scientific mind is able to save the rest of the characters. This aspect raises a character which could have simply been used for comedy relief so that he feels like a necessary member of this ragtag group.
Caliban’s War is tremendously good science fiction and worth reading whether you are a fan of the genre or not. The emphasis on the characters rather than the techonology bridge the gap between our time and this one depicted 300 years in the future. The governments still squabble, the corporations are still getting fat on misery an corruption, and occasionally a group of heroes will rise. While the events in The Expanse series have elements of standard space opera plotting, it is exceptionally well done space opera plotting. That alone makes this series exciting as hell and absolutely recommended reading.
Note: Book 3, Abaddon’s Gate, came out June 2013.