After an epic blockbuster like Leviathan Wakes, there is always the fear the following novels will just gradually nose dive in quality. Caliban’s War is the sequel that drags it’s feet a little but then left me in an unpleasant state of anxiety. There is nothing worse than having to leave your book while your characters are in peril because you have to sleep for work and this was a nightly thing. I had many times thinking ‘these books would’ve been awesome table top games’ because originally they were supposed to be. I had many mornings waking in a state of acute expectation to get back to the evening and into my book.
Caliban’s War had difficult job in following Leviathan Wakes. But once this sequel get’s it’s shit together it delivers a punch of an ending that resulted in me to flinging the book across the room because I hate cliffhangers… so… so very much.
This novel gave me a few problems actually. It is as much as the narrative moving on and also everybody having a bit of a crisis of faith with everything. Is it existentialism? Is it fear? And after such a long time of reading and becoming a little unhealthily attached to fictional works I also had the same crisis.
James Holden has lost the plot. He is now a cold, gunslinging, no bullshit, shoot first ask questions later guy, seemingly ready to start a war and shout at the people endorsing him all because he is terribly afraid. This is very different from the driven, righteous rebel-hero of Leviathan Wakes. Of course, he realises he is being an ass and talks it out, and every good series needs to show the flaws of the good guys. But am I certain I even like Holden at this point? Do I trust him with my crew right now? (yes, mine. Don’t argue.)
Perhaps this is the point. The narrative of this novel is very instrumental in questioning who is trustworthy and where allegiance lies. Caliban’s War begins with what is supposed to be a boring stand off between peacekeepers between Mars and Earth on Ganymede. But quickly it turns into a confused attack by a third party with all sides being destroyed bar one, Bobbie Draper. The bulk of the novel is concerned with figuring out who is responsible and riddling out what has happened.
There are a few subplots of course, a missing child, (again), but this time its a biologist’s daughter who turns out is key to understanding the main plot of the novel. Prax and his devote commitment to finding his daughter dead or alive seems to echo some of the character traits Holden possessed in the first novel but his emotionally unstable skew again off sets his character. There is a lot about this novel that feels unstable and like the calm before the real storm arrives.
Bobbie Draper becomes employed with a politician, Chrisjen Avasarala, an old indian lady with a foul mouth and is struggling to deal with the grief of having her squad mates killed before her. Bobbie is actually one of my favourite characters in the novel, despite the grief she is experiencing she actually seems the most together and I would really like to see more of her.
Amos find’s his feelings. Naomi of course is putting up with Holden’s shit until she tells him to pack it in. And Alex is being is awesome pilot self and actually doesn’t seem to do much this novel but keep everyone out of danger by the width of a hair (as always the ship is riddled with bullets that almost fail to hit something important).
All the while between the heavy politics, the personal problems, and the kidnapped children there is a very ominous growing threat in the background on Venus.
Overall I think this is a strong sequel, but I can understand why some fans would put it down as there are some narrative similarities to Leviathan Wakes and it does take a little time to find itself. The conflict between the crew, particularly from Holden is awkward and frustrating and this really sets the tone for the rest of the narrative for me. But I think Caliban’s War is supposed to be a novel that puts the reader and it’s inhabitants into strife, it’s supposed to make you feel uncomfortable. There is a universe of hell about to hit the atmosphere (so to speak) and this novel has the distinct feel of a larger tension that is building in the series.
Of course I haven’t mentioned the seamless action, the close to the bone imaginative writing, the convincing grasp of science, the unsettling sequences that make you grip your chair because these are all features of the first one. The second is built from the same brick, but there are new significant big ideas being thrown into that house now.
I am very certain that it is time to buckle my seatbelt, the next one is going to be a bumpy ride. These are brilliant books!