Book Review: Waking Gods by Sylvain Neuvel
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: Book 2 of Themis Files
Publisher: Del Rey (April 4, 2017)
Length: 320 pages
While Sleeping Giants was not without its flaws, it did succeed in leaving me curious about where the story will go next. So when the opportunity to read the sequel presented itself, it didn’t take much convincing for me to jump on board.
Ten years have passed since the events of the first book. The world has accepted the presence of Themis, the giant robot first found buried in pieces all over the world, later assembled to become humanity’s greatest weapon. Ancient aliens had left her here to be our protector—or that’s what the Earth Defense Corps wants everyone to believe. Which is why when a second robot—even more massive than Themis—suddenly materializes from out of nowhere in the middle of London, the local population’s reaction to it is decidedly nonchalant and calm. Despite being larger, the robot’s appearance is familiar, and in a way…comforting.
However, with each passing day and with no further movement from the robot, its looming presence is quickly becoming a source of anxiety for the EDC and people are starting to ask some difficult questions. What is this second robot doing there? Where did it come from? Who is piloting it? What do they want and what are they waiting for? Before answers can be forthcoming though, the robot makes its move—and no one is quiet prepared when it finally happens. The resulting devastation in London is unspeakable, the death tolls staggering—and unfortunately, these horrors are just the beginning. As more of the giant robots start appearing in big cities across the globe, Dr. Rose Franklin and her team must figure out Themis’ secrets before humanity faces its impending extinction.
No question about it, Waking Gods is better than its predecessor. Like Sleeping Giants, it is presented as collection of journal entries, transcribed interviews and dictations, textual communications, etc. making it a very quick read, so if you enjoyed the structure of the first book then you should have no problems getting into this sequel. The ideas are also just as unique and imaginative. Second book slump? Nope, not here. From colossal robots of alien origin to conspiracies involving ancient factions on Earth, all these elements introduced in Sleeping Giants are just the tip of the iceberg. There’s simply so much more to this story to discover, and the shockers and plot twists here make the ones in the first book feel tame in comparison.
Thing is though, epistolary novels are not always that conducive to character development, so it’s a good thing that most of the main players from the first book also return for the sequel. The author has an incredible talent for writing dialogue (you sorta have to, in order to pull off a project like this!) but revealing most of the plot through interview transcripts also sacrifices a lot of emotional connection to the characters, which was one of my biggest issues with Sleeping Giants. Thankfully I found this “distancing effect” to be less of a problem in Waking Gods, or perhaps I simply needed at least two books to really get a feel for Rose, Kara, Vincent, and of course our mysterious unnamed interviewer.
That said, I still find the format limiting in certain situations. While the info-dumping is not quite as bad as it was in the first book, you still get the occasional awkward moment, especially in the sections with oral dictation. Imagine if you will that a giant robot was in the process of falling right on top of you. Most people in this situation would be running helter-skelter for their life, not stating ludicrous things like “I’m not sure I can outrun a twenty-story building!” or “I can hear it crumbling down behind me!” into a microphone while trying their darndest not to die. There’s a fine line between keeping things interesting and convincing when it comes to epistolary novels. Compared to the first book, Waking Gods may a strike a better balance in this regard, but I feel we’re still not all the way there yet.
Nevertheless, I’m glad I read it. If you had fun with Sleeping Giants, this sequel will be definitely worth your time. I have to say any criticisms I have are pretty minor; on the whole this book is an improvement over the first one, pushing the story and characters to greater heights while dropping plenty of surprises. I devoured Waking Gods and enjoyed every moment, and all I have to say about that ending is, there’d damn well better be another book!
More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of Sleeping Giants (Book 1)