Book: Waking Gods
Author: Sylvain Neuvel
My Rating: 3/5 Stars
Recommended for: Anyone who loves hard sci-fi, good world building, interview style storytelling and stories of aliens coming to Earth.
Let me start by saying that Waking Gods could have been a four or five star read for me, but it just didn’t quite deliver the way I wanted it to. The novel picks up where Sleeping Giants left off. Earth has discovered a giant alien robot that they named Themis and a group named the Earth Defense Corp (EDC) is busy trying to unravel how it works. The interviews that tell the bulk of the story are conducted by a mysterious, un-named character who is powerful enough to command respect and attention from the world’s governments. The other main characters are EDC scientist Rose Franklin and the pilots of Themis – a hot headed ex helicopter pilot named Kara Resnik and her husband, linguist Vincent Couture. Waking Gods starts eight years or so after the events of the first book; a second giant robot has appeared in the middle of London and the world must decide how to respond…
First off, I love the way the books in this series are written. When I read World War Z in college I fell in love with the way a story could be told through interviews. Waking Gods adds in some journal entries and notes, but for the most part the interviews of our main characters, as well as many auxiliary characters, do a good job telling the story. Along with the mode of storytelling, the hard sci-fi themes really got my neurons firing. Without giving away the plot, there are multiple scientific speculative sci-fi explanations of genetics and physics that I found fascinating. This deep, geeky world building is what I love most about sci-fi and it made me happy to see it here. Lastly, the first book in the series left a lot on the table regarding the aliens, the mysterious interviewer, the robot itself and many other aspects of the world. In Waking Gods, a lot of my questions were answered and I liked the direction the author took most of these reveals. Overall, there was a lot to love here and I do recommend hard sci-fi lovers give this series a chance because it kills it in that regard.
(P.S. – The cover is beautiful. All three novels in this series have very cool cover artwork!)
What comes up, though, must come down. In my opinion, there is a lot of room for growth with the overall writing style. The pace felt off, some of the dialogue felt cheesy and forced and the ending was chaotic. Chaos isn’t inherently a bad thing in a book, some of my favorite novels embrace chaos, but here I felt it didn’t work with the style of storytelling. At the end it left me feeling like half of the plot was crammed into the last fifty pages and for me it didn’t work well. There is also a strong sense of loss in this novel, one that I found to be very depressing and hard to wrap my head around. Now, it wasn’t the loss itself that I found hard to bear; I think loss and death are powerful weapons in the storyteller’s arsenal and can really help convey a sense of reality to a work of fiction. What I didn’t like was how the characters handled the loss – it felt hollow and unbelievable. I think this could have been remedied by adding some depth to the emotions the characters were feeling. Overall, I think the book could have benefitted from another fifty or so pages to help flesh these things out.
While I believe it was overall a flawed work, I still enjoyed the story and am looking forward to finding out what happens in the conclusion to the series in Only Human. Thanks for reading another review and look out in the weeks to come for my review of the concluding work in The Themis Files!