Humans have colonized the solar system. The next step is the stars. People live in three different societies: Earth, Mars and the Belt. The Belters work rigs and haul water resources from the Asteroid Belt for Mars and Earth. All are prejudiced in one way or another toward each other, but the Belters have the harshest life living in slums with their own unique language that people from Mars and Earth don't understand. James Holden, captain of an ice-hauling spaceship answers a distress call of a starship the Scorpuli. While he and a small crew investigate the Scorpuli, his spaceship is nuked out of the sky. Holden realizes a trap was set when he finds a distress signal that had a Mars-branded transmitter making it appear to be a deliberate attack. He broadcasts the information that causes a war to break out involving the Belt, Mars, and Earth.
Meanwhile on the Asteroid Ceres, the hard-drinking Detective Miller is assigned to find the Earth girl, Julie Mao, and bring her back to her parents. She becomes a symbol of redemption for him. Julie gives Miller hope and a goal to do something good and worthwhile before a traumatic event happens that seems to push him over the edge. He seems to be suffering from depression over his divorce before the event and post-traumatic stress after the trauma of finding Julie. He becomes emotionally numb suffering from enormous guilt and purposefully isolating himself from others. He's a depressing but interesting character who goes through the most internal turmoil.
The overarching theme gets lost at times. Holden is an idealist that believes the world should be given information regardless of the consequences because people will choose to do the right thing. Miller is a nihilist who believes facts need to be pursued and information should not be tossed willy-nilly to people because they will not make the right decision. Neither character is correct and most of the tension comes from their opposing viewpoints. While Miller seems to understand these philosophical differences, Holden slowly comes to realize this fact. The other theme of the unethical acts of large-holding corporations show how no one wins from the horrors of war.
The characters swear an awful lot and I thought the dialogue was jarring because of it. Of course, I read and work with kids all the time and teachers and the kids don't swear. At least not like these characters who grew up in the Belt. It's just a heads up. They are supposed to represent the people who grew up in the Belt that meant a rough upbringing. I get why the authors did that but I didn't think it always fit with the scene or dialogue. This book was entertaining and I know I will read more space opera in the future. There isn't much in children's books on the topic.