“Good, because I don’t use sex as a weapon. I use weapons as weapons.”
“My last act in this universe isn’t going to be fucking up everything I did right up to now.”
“No, actually, it should be fine. This is all posturing. As long as they keep comparing dicks, no one will shoot.”
It’s the Avasarala and Bobbie show! Caliban’s War brought us two new, very likeable protagonists, strong and entertaining in very different ways. Moreover, we got to take more of a look at my favorite faction, Mars and the MCRN!
In most ways, Caliban’s War is actually very different from Leviathan Wakes. The overall tone of the book is much less gloomy, the protomolecule plays less of a front and center role, and…fewer vomit zombies, so that way nobody can criticize The Expanse as just being zombies in space. Hooray!
First off, Bobbie is my favorite character in this book. She an MCRN marine (and we’ve already established that I *love* the MCRN), and you get to see her mental struggles in this book, first with the PTSD that she experiences after her squadmates die on Ganymede; and then later with the situation she’s thrown into on Earth, working for Avasarala and having to deal with her inner struggles of what to do as an MCRN marine working for a UN politician. Is she loyal? Is she a traitor to Mars?
I really liked having another genuinely good character that wasn’t Holden too. For example, the entire firefight to take Mao’s yacht, she exercises incredible restraint in trying to kill or injure the fewest amount of people, recognizing that the crew of the yacht aren’t evil; they’re just trying to do their jobs. I mean, part of that was her PTSD from seeing her friends killed on Ganymede, but nevertheless. Speaking of…
Her PTSD is a recurring theme throughout the whole book. You see it immediately addressed in the beginning, as the MCRN teams her up with a counselor who forces her to deal with it, and then especially at the end, where she faces off against one of the Protomolecule hybrids. Corey does a great job of illustrating her state of mind as the Rocinate goes towards Ganymede, especially through describing the dreams she was having of facing off vs it (and dying!). Their final battle was very climactic and rewarding.
Now, on to everyone else’s favorite character, Avasarala, our walking, talking, cursing favorite grandmother and political player haha. Whereas Bobbie is a walking example of virtue, Avasarala is written a lot more deeply, with nuances to everything she says and does.
Corey does a great job of writing us into her head, either when she’s contemplating making a move and weighing the alternatives, or when she’s flat out explaining to Holden or to Draper why something that they’re thinking is a bad idea. You really get a great insight into her political mind and her calculated actions.
The whole debacle with getting on Mao’s yacht is a great example of it. You’ve got Bobbie basically stating what we, the readers, are thinking: Don’t get on the yacht! It’s a trap! You’ll die! And Avasarala knows it’s a bunk move, but she goes ahead and does it anyway since her political clout is enough to keep her safe at the very least. Plus, she knows that the political consequences of NOT getting on the yacht are awful, basically losing all of her political clout that she spent years, no decades, procuring.
In addition, there’s the whole episode where she sees that the Rocinate is in trouble and boards it in order to keep Holden and his crew safe. She basically forces her way on to the vessel, over Holden’s misgivings, so that way nobody can fire on it and kill them. Plus, she has that wonderful exchange with Holden where she basically calls him an idiot and the cause of all the solar system’s problems because he can’t stop broadcasting everything he learns. In a way, she’s Miller 2.0, just as entertaining, but with a different perspective on why Holden is dumb haha.
Okay, so I may have lied when I said this was the Bobbie Draper and Chrisjen Avasarala show. There was an entire subplot with Prax and his kid. Well, subplot, main plot, whatever.
Prax is supposed to be Protagonist A in this story, since so many of the chapters are his. he’s supposed to be this virtuous father, trying against all odds to get his daughter back despite having no training to do so. Alas, I found him whiny and idiotic, moreso than Holden, and as Avasarala said in the book “the bar’s not low.”
He gets *SO MANY* people killed, starting with that firefight on Ganymede that he starts (but doesn’t finish!). I felt really bad for the security troop that Holden encountered on Ganymede. Here they are, minding their own business, just trying to find their way off this godforsaken rock that’s running out of food, and they basically turn into Holden’s redshirts. The first of them dies in this idiotic firefight that Prax starts because he cocks his gun for no reason.
Well, I guess I can’t say no reason. For a stupid reason. Because he’s brash and emotional and doesn’t know the consequences of his actions…like cocking a gun in a tense situation where everyone has guns pointed at each other. Sheesh, now I feel like Avasarala lecturing Holden…
More than that, he’s never rational at any point in the story. And I mean, I get some of that. Corey’s trying to show that a father trying to get his little girl back won’t do rational things. But I’m also reading this from the perspective of Holden or Avasarala. When they approach Io and the base is basically saying “get anywhere near us and we’ll shoot all these protomolecule monsters to Mars”, the clear thing to do is to just glass the installation. Why Avasarala doesn’t just immediately order that is beyond me.
Well, I guess not beyond me. It’s for Prax. We’re going to risk thousands of lives in the ships surrounding Io and THE ENTIRE POPULATION OF MARS in order to save Prax’s little girl. Look, I get it. He’s important to her. But every person on Mars, every crewman in the ships above Io, is important to someone. That is a terrible risk/reward proposition.
He doesn’t even learn his lesson, insisting on accompanying the away team down to Io, and at first not understanding why he doesn’t get a gun this time. More than that, he almost falls for the idiotic statements of Dr. Strickland, the very person who kidnapped his little girl in the first place!
“I don’t need to kill you. I have my daughter back. Revenge isn’t important to me.” he says to Strickland. WHAAAAT?!?! You just spent forever moving heaven and earth to get your daughter back, risking everyone’s lives in the process, and you can’t even finish the man who did this to you? Good thing my boy Amos was there.
So, in case you can’t tell already, Prax was a very frustrating character for me…
Epic Space Battles!
But maybe my favorite part of the entire The Expanse series up until now happened here in the pages of Caliban’s War: the space battle between the 5 UN warships and the 5 MCRN warships + the Rocinate. In typical Corey fashion, the action itself happens over a few pages, and happens quickly. Space out for a minute and you’ll miss it. But why would you space out during the epic space battle?!
It’s no secret that I love Mars and the MCRN, so getting to see the MCRN ships in action (and not getting blown to pieces like the poor Donnager) was wonderful. Having the Rocinate score the critical hit that turned the tide of the entire battle was a nice touch as well. Corey does a great job of illustrating just how tense and close the battle is, even though the MCRN in this case has tactical and numerical superiority. It only takes one missile to breach to turn the entire tide of the battle, and everything that’s happening is either focused on landing that hit, or making sure that the PDDs do their job of deflecting the torpedoes.
One thing I didn’t get at the end though was how Prax, or anyone else for that matter, would be able to go back to Ganymede. I thought Holden had seen the protomolecule start eating the place up, turning into a larger version of Eros? There is no way to scrub the planet of that, so how exactly did *anyone* go back to Ganymede to rebuild after?