May’s Awkward Middle Child

I’ll admit it with a sigh–I only read one book in May. Okay, actually, I only finished one book in May. It was a month of starters, apparently, and I’m going strong. Ish. Strongish. We’ll see where June leaves us, but I’m feeling better since I’ve already devoured two whole books this month. Back to what I was saying–I read Caliban’s War, by  James S.A Corey, the follow up to Leviathan Wakes

This novel can be described so succinctly in less than five words– overachieving middle child syndrome. Within the first sixty pages you know that this is not a sequel, but rather is a book being sandwiched between the first and the looming shadow of the unwritten last. I try not to hold any grudges against middle books in a trilogy, because it’s not their fault. I can’t think of any trilogy that had a strong, independent second book; a second book that served a purpose separate from being the set up for the final book’s conclusion. Even my all-time favorite trilogy, His Dark Materials, The Subtle Knife–as wonderful as it was–exists primarily as set up for The Amber Spyglass.

I almost hold a grudge against Caliban’s War, though, because for a couple hundred pages you really start to believe that the authors are going to be bold enough to finish the story line they start in the same book. It’s a gamble, but it’s one that kept me enthralled throughout an otherwise plodding pacing. Don’t get me wrong–the story concept itself was strong, and I really enjoyed reading the expanding details of the political world the authors are creating. The new characters were all strongly written without overlap to too many tropes. The few times the authors seemed to be rewriting old characters into existing name slots, they caught themselves and used other characters to call them out. “You’re turning into X___,” one character accuses another. “You better cut that out.”

Still, something overall about the novel just didn’t click as well with me, and I’ll chalk it up to being the middle child. It took me a lot longer than I expected to read it. My biggest disappointment was felt at the end of the book where, and I’m attempting to do this with no spoilers, but it goes back to expectations. The book starts out with a strong middle-of-the-trilogy feel, introducing a whole swath of new characters that aren’t immediately relevant and you know it’s set up for the next book. A new crisis emerges, and you start to feel like the book couldn’t possibly be complete without the conclusion of said crisis. Detailed (and perhaps overly obvious) foreshadowing managed to tie in another looming crisis with the one we were currently reading about, and maybe that’s where the disconnect happened. I suppose I read them as too intricately entwined, and silly me, I started to believe that one crisis would be the catalyst that solved the other crisis. I was wrong. The end of the book wraps up one, and leaves with an all-too-predictably cliffhanger.

But that’s okay. For all the criticism I might pour onto this book, I pour it out of love. This series has been one of the easiest, candy-like sci-fi books. They read fast because they are fun, and I haven’t felt let down with that element. Sure Caliban’s War might have gotten tripped up with its pacing a couple of times, but it’s stil about space cowboys who’ve gone rogue against the big worlds in order to fight big scary space monsters. So you can’t complain too much, amiright?


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