There are few things in life as enjoyable as a space opera that just focuses on telling a good story.
Leviathan Wakes by James SA Corey one of those books.
The first in a series, it can be read as a standalone, but you really should read the others (I’ll be reviewing them in due time).
It tells the story of first contact, essentially. The book opens with a character encountering a strange and deadly alien life-form, and that chapter ends on an ominous note. From there, we meet our two central protagonists for the story, a detective straight out of noir and a captain straight out of seafaring and space-faring tropes along the likes of Firefly and Aubrey/Maturin.
They’re surrounded by a well-rounded and diverse (literally) cast of characters, each with unique and eclectic backgrounds. For the most part, they feel fleshed out and have their own agency, though a couple of secondary characters aren’t quite as memorable as others. Personally, I had a hard time distinguishing Alex and Amos, though not for James SA Corey’s lack of trying. One is a pilot and the other is a mechanic. One is from Mars with a Texan twang and the other is an engineer from Earth. And even as Corey continued to remind readers of this throughout the book, I still kept going, “Wait, which one’s which?” Though that probably speaks to my attention span more than anything else.
Easily the best thing about this book is the feel of the universe. It’s totally believable, with Earth, Mars, and the Outer Planets (inhabited by Belters). The Belters have their own patois and sense of priorities. Corey’s world-building is exceptional – interesting and detailed enough but not so much that it distracts from the plot.
The plot is well-paced, and the style of writing feels cohesive (I felt this was worth noting since James SA Corey is actually two people, Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck).
If you’re looking for a space opera with intrigue, a well-paced plot, action and mystery, you really can’t do much better than Leviathan Wakes.