Book Review: The Deaths of Tao by Wesley Chu
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: Book 2 of Tao
Publisher: Angry Robot
Date of Publication: October 29, 2013
I had the great pleasure of reading Wesley Chu’s debut The Lives of Tao earlier this year, so needless to say I was pretty excited about reading the sequel. And to my delight, The Deaths of Tao turned out to be a worthy follow-up to its predecessor! In many ways, I liked it even more than the first book; after all, the scope of the story has gotten bigger, but it still retains all the humor and action that first drew me in.
And yet, there are some changes too, most of which I enjoyed. For one thing, we’re no longer focusing on the transformation of Roen Tan from an overweight dejected IT guy to an athletic fighting machine. After the first book, Tao has managed to train his human host into a full-fledged Prophus agent. But just because we no longer have the amusement of seeing Tao whip Roen into shape anymore, that doesn’t mean the fun is over. Roen still has problems, just most of them now involve his personal life.
A few years have passed since the end of the first book. Apparently there has been no happily-ever-after for Roen and Jill, even after the two of them had gotten married and had a son. The Prophus and Genjix war has caused a rift between the couple, and Jill blames Tao for making Roen put his missions ahead of his family. It also hasn’t helped that their side has been steadily losing ground while the enemy has been making headway in their plans to dominate the human race.
Things are looking dire, but I actually quite like the direction this series has taken, as the dynamics between Roen and Tao’s relationship have shifted. Of course, the humor and witty banter’s still there, but now Roen’s crumbling marriage is a source of tension between the human and alien, not to mention the pressure’s on everyone now that it looks like the Genjix are about to win. The Prophus aren’t taking it lying down though, and are still doing what they can to stop them.
Normally, I’d be wary about sequels that skip ahead a bunch of years, with characters whose relationships have evolved drastically. To a certain extent, a part of me always wishes that they could stay the same, but at the same time I know that runs the risk of becoming stale and stagnant. Changes therefore have to be handled carefully. However, I liked everything Wesley Chu did in this sequel; the changes are all compelling and they add to the story. I especially enjoyed reading about how the past few years have affected Roen and Jill, as well as their Quasings Tao and Baji. It’s also great how the narration has expanded beyond Roen to include Jill and others.
Like I said, The Deaths of Tao is bigger and better. Firstly, this time we get to follow the war on a more international scale. Roen and his team are sent on a mission to Taiwan, where most of this book takes place, and Wesley Chu brings this setting to life with his wonderful descriptions of the country and its culture. Next, we discover that the Quasing conflict actually goes a lot deeper than we realized, extending into the economic and political realms. More information is revealed about how the aliens have influenced humanity and our history since time eternal. Lastly, a new villain emerges in the form of Enzo, a truly scary and insane megalomaniac who’s unpredictable because he doesn’t always play by the rules. Still, I find it incredibly interesting to see into the heads of bad guys, and as such I was pretty happy that we also got a part of the book told in his perspective.
I couldn’t believe it when I got to the ending. Admittedly, it came way too soon, but it was also everything I could hope for. We get not one but three explosive clashes happening in different parts of the world, and then both alien factions raise the stakes. Now begins the wait for book three, and thanks to that cliffhanger I know I’m going to have a hard time being patient to see what happens next!