Book Review: The Lives of Tao by Wesley Chu
First, I would like to thank Netgalley and the publisher for allowing me to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Roen Tan is an out-of-shape IT tech just trying to make it through the daily grind when he becomes the host of an advanced alien named Tao. When he finally becomes aware of Tao, Roen thinks he’s about to live the glamorous life of a super spy as Tao gives him knowledge beyond his measure and starts whipping him into shape with diet and exercise. Roen quickly learns that James Bond’s glamorous life is a complete fraud and that spy work is tedious, time-consuming, and nothing like a superhero movie. However, Roen does find himself with Tao’s help and begins to push past his safe boundaries.
The first thing you should know about me is I always root for the underdogs. I am a huge fan of unconventional heroes doing unconventional things, especially unconventional things they seem ill suited for. Roen fits all of those qualifications. Reading this story was like watching an awkward friend grow into a graceful swan. It was funny, endearing, and just a tad bit cute—all things considered. At the beginning of this story, Roen isn’t living more than he’s just existing. He wants a better life, but he’s not motivated to take the steps needed to achieve that until he becomes Tao’s new host.
Tao’s people have lived on earth long before humans were even conceived, and they’ve been working just as long to find a way off this rock. This has been a very slow process for them since their survival on Earth means they have to rely on host bodies to protect them and carry out the tasks necessary to their goals. As with any group trying to achieve a common goal, though, there’s dissension about how that goal should be achieved. For this reason, after many years of working together, Tao’s people split into two factions—the peaceful Prophus and the warlike Genjix.
Second thing you should know about it is that I love history, so I appreciated how Chu incorporated that into his story by having the Prophus and Genjix part of every pivotal moment of history and explaining a little bit about how their involvement shaped those moments. Tao, who is part of Prophus, admits that both sides have done some terrible things throughout history, but sometimes, you have to choose the lesser of two evils for the greater good. This is one of the things that Roen begins to struggle with as he becomes a better Prophus agent.
Roen made me laugh out loud and roll my eyes often at the same time. The character felt like the type of friend I’d call up and say, “Calm down, man. Breathe. Now, you go and be awesome, Roen.” He reminded me so much of someone I know who I could picture in Roen’s place doing the exact same things. Over the course of the story, he didn’t become some supreme super spy, but he grew as a person and as an agent. He came to terms with his new mission in life. Yeah, he did some amazing things during this, but through it all, Roen managed to continue to feel like an everyday person.
I loved Tao’s seriousness tinged with just a hint of humor, and I thought the story of his race and their struggle was interesting. Their role in history and the vast knowledge they possessed was a nice touch. Even though they seem to have all the elements there to be a super race, they’re still hindered by their divisiveness, vulnerability and lack of resources on a planet that they’re basically manipulating down this technological evolutionary path to aid their agenda. I wish I could’ve learned a little more about Tao’s people, but that’s such a small complaint for an otherwise fun book.
This was a wonderfully engaging story. The tone used felt very familiar, giving the story a very easygoing feel that kept me reading. It doesn’t seem to take itself too seriously, which was a welcomed break from all the grimdark I’d been reading lately.