Review: A History of What Comes Next 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.

A History of What Comes Next by Sylvain Neuvel

Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 3.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Science Fiction, Historical Fiction

Series: Book 1 of A History of What Comes Next

Publisher: Hardcover: Tor.com | Audibook: Macmillan Audio (February 2, 2021)

Length: HC: 304 pages | Audio: 9 hrs and 22 mins

Author Information: Website | Twitter

A strange yet intriguing version of the space race is retold in this first installment of Sylvain Neuvel’s Take Them to the Stars trilogy, an alternate history following the lives of several generations of women from a family of otherworldly beings. Sara and Mia are the latest members in a long line of Kibsu, an all-female society whose ancient origins are believed to go way back beyond the dawn of human civilization. Since then, a team consisting of a mother and her daughter, identical in their genetic makeup, has existed with the sole purpose to shape and influence humanity with the end goal of helping them reach the stars, else an evil which has been hunting them for millennia will catch up and kill them all.

The ninety-ninth generation, Mia finds herself traveling to Germany in the mid-1940s on a secret mission to recruit aerospace engineer Wernher von Braun as part of Operation Paperclip, an American program to secure the space race. Soon after though, her mother Sara fears that the age-old enemies of the Kibsu, known as the Trackers, are dangerously close to discovering their location, forcing them to flee to Moscow. There, the pair begin a new undertaking to aid the Russian space program, hoping that this would also send the United States scrambling to develop their own rockets. Time, however, is running out in more ways than one. Humanity is close to making a breakthrough, but the Trackers are also hot on the women’s trail. Furthermore, Sara knows that a new generation must be created if their mission is to continue, but there can never be more than two Kibsu for long. While Mia understands what needs to be done, her heart breaks at the idea of giving up everything for duty, not to mention she is not yet ready to lose her mother.

It’s an interesting premise, to be sure. That said, if you’re the kind of reader who prefers their stories with clear, logical plot progression and convincing explanations, A History of What Comes Next will probably not be your cup of tea. To start, if you were reading my summary and wondered what the motives of the Kibsu might be, you’re sadly not going to get much more beyond what I’ve already outlined. As for their origins, the whys and hows are foggy at best, and not even the many flashbacks sprinkled throughout the narrative were able to provide much clarity. Ultimately, one gets the sense you’re not supposed to ask too many questions, since the characters themselves are unsure of the answers.

On a positive note though, the ideas in this book were very unique. Neuvel incorporates real events, writing about everything from the post-WWII period to the tail end of the space race with an eye towards detail, a point which should win a lot of favor with historical fiction fans. At the same time, he’s also weaving in the supernatural and other speculative elements which fantasy and science fiction fans should eat right up. Of course, given that the overlap between these two groups is going to be much narrower, the question is whether this novel will find an audience, and here’s where I think things get a little trickier.

As well, I can see the story’s format being an obstacle for some, for not only does the book’s structure employ multiple perspectives with flashbacks, the writing style is also somewhat reminiscent of the author’s Themis Files trilogy, unfolding mostly in dialogue. It’s a gutsy move, since so much could go wrong, and I confess that during my experimentation with different formats for this novel, I found that the style made for a very poor audiobook experience even with a full cast doing the different voices. Even when reading in print, the prose simply felt too broken up, and because a lot of times we were limited to dialogue, I often felt I was missing out on a ton of context due to a lack of description.

In the end, I am torn. The ideas here were great, and I loved the blend of history and SFF, but the book would have been a richer, fuller experience for me had it been told in a more conventional style. This was a niche read, one that will probably struggle to find wide appeal, though on the other hand, I believe those whom it speaks to will absolutely adore it. There’s definitely potential here, a chance for this trilogy to grow and become so much more. I guess we shall see with the sequel.

24 Comments on “Review: A History of What Comes Next by Sylvain Neuvel”

  1. I‘ll give that a pass. The real Space race history is interesting enough with all the heroism and soap opera. I‘ve enjoyed „The Right Stuff“ series about the Mercury pilots on Disney+ 😁

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It would seem that the two main elements in this novel – the alternate look at history and the writing style – have trouble coexisting in the same book and that the author might have taken on more than he could manage in a successful way. Still, the premise is intriguing…. 🙂

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  3. I pretty much had the same reaction as you did. I loved the idea, but the format definitely slowed me down, and you’re right, this is definitely a niche book!

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  4. Ooh I’ve been wondering about his books ever since reading the first one. Unfortunately that first series grabbed me a little but not enough to continue, and it sounds like the lack of background info here might not wow me. Still, I love the premise!

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  5. I applaud authors who are willing (or perhaps financially able) to take a chance writing to a niche audience. I don’t think I’ve read much yet in the realm of alternate history.

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  6. I’m intrigued by this one for sure! I always find alt histories interesting but I don’t know if this one will work for me because of what you mentioned. On the one hand sometimes some vagary works for me well! But then sometimes it doesn’t. LOL. I’ll keep this one in mind though. Great review!

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    • I like full cast audiobooks, but not so much when they have the voice actors interject whenever they have dialogue, if you know what I mean. I find that more distracting than immersive. But if there are multiple narrators just reading their own sections in full, I love that!

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  7. Mmm, I didn’t think this one would be for me and so didn’t request it and your review has me convinced that was the right decision. It doesn’t sound like my thing.
    Lynn 😀

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  8. Pingback: Bookshelf Roundup: 02/20/21: Stacking the Shelves & Recent Reads | The BiblioSanctum

  9. Between you and Tammy you’ve made me so interested in this book! The Kibsu sound fascinating and I really want to take a look at the writing style, even if I end up having it! 😆

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