Sci-Fi Review: ‘Caliban’s War’ by James S.A. Corey

Maybe I just have a thing for elderly ladies that take charge and make everyone around them Caliban's War (Expanse, #2)dance to their music. Maybe I am a much bigger fan of a basic space opera than I ever will be of detective noir. Maybe I just really didn’t enjoy a race through a space station of ‘vomit zombies’ that seemed to go on forever in the first book of this series.

Whatever the reason, I found Caliban’s War to be a much stronger outing than Leviathan Wakes.

The first book of the series set the stage for this highly accessible sci-fi series. It was at its core a detective story as two protagonists searched for a missing girl. Of course it dissolved into something different; intersystem warfare and a nasty biological oddity that ended up being the most important part of the story…until it was pushed into the background again.

To me this is where the series shines. I am interested in the alien thing, but I a much bigger fan of the more personal sci-fi the two authors are creating. So imagine my joy to learn that the alien thing stays in the back and menaces, really only flaring it’s ugly head when the pesky humans poke at it a bit, and the story instead focuses on the doings of the people spread around the solar system. Caliban’s War opens up the cast; loose cannon Holden is back but is joined by three other POV’s and a damn entertaining secondary cast.

I loved the new characters. Bobbie, the Martian Marine (human born on Mars, get Marvin out of your head), is the exact opposite of any stereotyped character you have read. A well-muscled large woman who excels at what she does and suddenly must figure out a new game as well. Prax is a scientist one can’t help but hope for; the search for his missing daughter is real and emotional. But the star, the single person that would keep me reading his book even if the rest of it wasn’t as good as it was, is Avarasala.

Let’s talk about Avarasala, shall we? An elderly woman of Indian heritage, loving wife and grandma, and one of the major players in the political game that is the U.N. and its relations with the outer planets. She is just friggen awesome. Pulling strings all over the political landscape while cussing up a storm and making everyone around her blush is great; the fact that she is doing it out of genuine concern for the solar system is even better. While events both books have centered around the doings of Holden throughout it is Avarasala who seems to have an ounce of control in a situation rapidly losing it.

While Caliban’s War left the noir behind, it still is a book with a fair amount of pulp. It is smart and believable, small in scale and has a fair amount of heart. But it has its share of over the top moments, plenty of humor (often in moments that would otherwise be fairly grim), and of course, zombie like things.

Is it strange that the driving force of this series, the protomolecule that has the various factions on edge, is my least favorite part? Perhaps. And two books in I admit I don’t dislike it quite as much as I did at first. But even with my slight ambivalence to the alien threat to the system I am glad to be catching up with this series. There is just so much goodness here.

4 Stars

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