Not a bad bit of world building. Solar system building, I guess – this book tackles the near (couple hundred years or so) future, when humanity has colonized the solar system, but the stars are still out of reach. (A tangential bit of the story deals with the first generation ship, nearly complete and prepping to launch for destiny in the stars – a ship paid and built for the Mormons!) Earth is tremendously populated, Mars is partially terraformed under great domes (and somehow Mars has the strongest military, huh?). The asteroid Belt between Mars and Jupiter is being actively mined. Ice chunks from the rings of Saturn are hauled in and used by the Belter population. Several of the larger asteroids, such as Ceres and Eros, have been hollowed out and spun up to provide a sort-of gravity. It’s not much, however, and the Belters grow up tall and lanky in the low gravity.
The story starts out pretty good. The point of view switches between two characters, Ceres security detective Miller and Holden, an officer on an ice hauler. Holden’s ship responds to a distress signal and Miller begins a search for a missing woman; from these beginnings things get more and more mysterious and more and more dangerous, leading to war — first the Mars vs the Belt, then Earth vs Mars. War between the inner planets, first of its kind, is particularly dangerous … as kind of a twist on Einstein’s (maybe?) quote about World War 4 being fought with rocks, the weapon of planetary mass destruction in Leviathan Wakes is orbital bombardment with, literally, rocks. Specifically, haul in an asteroid, sling it at the planet and voila, you have the extinction of the dinosaurs all over again.
About half way through the novel, we realize generally what’s going on. And unfortunately it doesn’t live up to the mystery built up by the story thus far, IMHO. The alien protomolecule story is kind of meh. And it made me nearly physically ill to read about vomit zombies and effects of radiation poisoning on the two main characters.
I suppose there are plenty of far-out, implausible bits in any sci-fi or fantasy novel, but then there are events that don’t seem to fit even in the world that has been created. In this case, when a handful of ragtag crew from a third-rate ice hauler effortlessly handles a state-of-the-art Martian warship with no training whatsoever, it gets kind of hard to believe. If they were such hotshots, why the heck were they stuck on the stupid ice hauler? Similarly, Holden continually putting pressure on Fred Johnson, leader of Tycho Station and the Belter Outer Planet Alliance, basically Holden’s only ally, is kind of silly. Despite being a key witness to important events, Holden demands to go off in “his” (stolen/salvaged) Martian warship and do dangerous things, etc. And Johnson doesn’t just give him the brush off and confiscate his ship anyway … no reason why he wouldn’t have.