Following through from the first book of the Expanse series, Caliban’s War continues to tell the story of the Rocinante crew one year after the catastrophic events on Eros that killed millions of people and pushed the three political powerhouses into the brink of an interplanetary war.
In Caliban’s War, the story begins on Ganymede, the breadbasket of the outer planets; a child is kidnapped and a few hours later a Martian Marine platoon is brutally attacked and slaughtered by a monstrous supersoldier leaving a sole survivor.
As events unfold in Ganymede, the alien protomolecule that landed in Venus begins to show mysterious changes. Earth, Mars, and the OPA observes the phenomenon intently, addressing political issues like walking on pins and needles post the Eros incident.
In Caliban’s War, the narrative is told from the perspective of 4 different characters.
- Bobbie Draper a top-notch Martian Marine who is stationed in Ganymede and the only survivor of her platoon that was brutally attacked and killed by a super-soldier.
- Chrisjen Avasarala a high-ranking UN official who would go to great lengths to keep interplanetary peace.
- Praxidike Meng a botanist working on Ganymede who searches for his missing daughter.
- James Holden, the captain of the salvaged Martian ship Rocinante.
Caliban’s War finally introduces us to two of my favorite kick-ass female characters; Chrisjen Avasarala and Bobbie Draper. I wrote about my love for the Expanse TV series sometime back and how much I love Avasarala’s character. I was slightly disappointed that Avasarala and Draper did not make an appearance in the first book, Leviathan Wakes but having Avasarala and Draper’s point of view in Caliban’s War makes the story more compelling.
Avasarala is more bad-ass in the book than she is in the show. It’s really fascinating to watch her analyze the environment from earth to Venus. She is smart, quick to assess and understand a situation, and is absolutely amazing at manipulating the political sphere to “keep civilization from blowing up while the children are in it.” She is sassy and straight to the point and does away with most pleasantries like waiting “fifty seconds for a round of etiquette and farewell. Life is too short for that shit.”
Truth be told, I am slightly in love with her.
“I don’t use sex as a weapon,” Bobbie said. I use weapons as weapons.”
Bobbie is marine to the core. Unlike Avasarala, Bobbie is not comfortable dealing with politics but both she and Avasarala have strong principles and will do what’s right to save humanity. Both are strong willed and won’t back down until they get the job done or die trying.
Prax provides more heart to the story. His only mission is to find his missing child. His narrative gives us a more humanistic view of the people around him and softens the hardness that is seen in most characters in the book.
In my review of Leviathan Wakes, I wrote about how I preferred the TV version of Holden more than the book version. That point of view has not changed. But, no matter how annoying he is, Avasarala sums up my thoughts of him well, “James Holden, the man without secrets. The holy fool who’d dragged the solar system into war and seemed utterly blind to the damaged he caused. An idealist. The most dangerous kind of man there was. And a good man too.”
Caliban’s War is a great follow-up to Leviathan Wakes. Leviathan Wakes sets up the necessary world-building story, but Caliban’s War was much more focused on the plot. The three new characters’ points of view provided depth to the overall storyline bringing some emotions and a balanced storyline to the plot.
In fact, it’s definitely one up from Leviathan Wakes.
Favorite quotes from the book:
- I can’t fight pirates without coffee.
- The level we’re playing at has different rules. It’s like playing go. It’s all about exerting influence. Controlling the board without occupying it.
- And more than that, she hated that her failure was going to mean more war, more violence, more children dying.
- Time took her strength but it gave her power in exchange. It was a fair trade.
- “Point of clarification,” Alex said, raising his hand. “We have an apocalypse comin’? Was that a thing we knew about?” “Venus,” Avasarala said. “Oh. That apocalypse,” Alex said, lowering his hand. “Right.”
- “Reputation never has very much to do with reality,” she said. “I could name half a dozen paragons of virtue that are horrible, small-souled, evil people. And some of the best men I know, you’d walk out of the room if you heard their names. No one on the screen is who they are when you breathe their air.”
- “I don’t kill children,” she said. “Not even when it’s the right thing to do. You would be surprised how often it’s hurt my political career.”
- If life transcends death, then I will seek for you there. If not, then there too.
- Every empire grows until its reach exceeds its grasp. We started out fighting over who got the best branches in one tree. Then we climb down and fight over a few kilometers’ worth of trees. Then someone starts riding horses, and you get empires of hundreds or thousands of kilometers. Ships open up empire expansion across the oceans. The Epstein drive gave us the outer planets…
- All of human civilization had been built out of the ruins of what had come before. Life itself was a grand chemical improvisation that began with the simplest replicators and grew and collapsed and grew again. Catastrophe was just one part of what always happened. It was a prelude to what came next.
- Humans can be better than they are, so let’s do that.
- There was a relentless forward motion to the man. The universe might knock him down over and over again, but unless he was dead, he’d just keep getting up and shuffling ahead toward his goal. Holden thought he had probably been a very good scientist. Thrilled by small victories, undeterred by setbacks. Plodding along until he got to where he needed to be.