Review: Waking Gods by Sylvain Neuvel

April 11, 2017
Review: Waking Gods by Sylvain NeuvelWaking Gods by Sylvain Neuvel
Series: Themis Files #2
Published by Del Rey Books on April 4 2017
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 320
Our reviews of this author: Sleeping Giants (Themis Files, #1)
Format: eARC
Source: Publisher

Thanks to Del Rey Books for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

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I had a blast reading Sleeping Giants last year, and despite some issues with the format, I enjoyed Neuvel’s original take on the alien invasion story. If you haven’t read Sleeping Giants, the story revolves around Dr. Rose Franklin, who finds a giant robot hand as a girl, and later becomes a renowned scientist who discovers that the hand is one piece of a very large alien robot. Sleeping Giants tackles the tale of how Rose and her crew are able to locate all the pieces of Themis, which just happen to be scattered all over the world, and put them back together again. Once that’s accomplished, the characters try to figure out the purpose of Themis—why she’s here and what she does.

Now in the second book of the series, Neuvel takes the exciting premise of the first book and injects it with a shot of adrenaline, raises the stakes and gives us a terrifying look at what an alien invasion might be like. If I was intrigued by all the science and alien engineering in the first book, I was scared out of my mind this time around. This is no E.T., it’s more like War of the Worlds, and I loved every minute of it. Even though I’m still having issues with the format—a mix of interviews, recorded journal entries, radio chatter between military personnel, and more—for the most part I was able to let go of my reservations and simply enjoy the ride. There may be some unavoidable spoilers in this review, because in order to talk about the story I’m going to have to spill some of the beans, but I’ll do my best to keep those to a minimum.

It’s been ten years since the events at the end of the last book. The U.S. has formed a group called the Earth Defense Corps in order to continue studying Themis and the reasons for her existence. Vincent and Kara are still piloting the giant robot, and they are still the only two people able to do so. Meanwhile, Rose, who was killed in the last book, has been brought back to life (by a method that I’m still not clear on), but she has lost many of the memories of her “old” life. Things have been relatively quiet, but that’s about to change—in a big way. One day, another giant robot, this one even taller than Themis, appears seemingly out of thin air in the middle of bustling London. Initial reactions range from fear all the way to curiosity, as British military forces debate whether a show of force is necessary, or if a peaceful approach might work better. As weeks pass with no movement from the robot, tensions start to rise, and eventually the area is flooded with military vehicles and armed troops, marching to surround the robot.

But one day, when a bright wall of light is released from the robot’s hand, the world watches in horror as the light sweeps across the city, obliterating everything in its path. When the dust settles, it is discovered that thousands have died, and the center of London is nothing more than a huge circle of dirt.

In the months that follow, Rose, Vincent and Kara will be called upon to try to solve the mystery of the new robot, now called Kronos. But before Rose can do anything, more robots begin to appear in large cities all over the world. Earth’s only hope is to utilize Themis as the weapon she was designed to be, because the event in London was only the beginning.

A lot happens in a very short book, and even though I’d love to discuss each juicy plot detail in this review, I’m going to resist temptation and stick to the basics. Let’s just say that the alien robots who pop up around the world pose a huge threat to the planet, and I was stunned by how dangerous these robots are. In the first book, the reader is lulled into a false sense of security, since Themis is one of the “good guys,” at least that’s the general consensus. But hold onto your hats, folks. Things get violent fast, and even as I was gasping in horror at some of the more outrageous plot points, I couldn’t keep the smile off my face. Neuvel certainly isn’t afraid to kill off his characters either, so don’t get too attached…

The story raises lots of interesting questions about how to defeat an enemy. Should the world go to war against the alien threat, or would it be better, as Rose suggests, to take a scientific approach to defeating them? Neuvel has some intriguing ideas about our possible relationship with alien life, and how we’re connected might lie in our DNA.

But despite the ideas and the implied action, this story felt static at times, much like Sleeping Giants. While I usually love the epistolary format, most of the horrific things that happen in Waking Gods happen between the lines, and despite the high body count, I didn’t really feel connected to those deaths. I think this is one of those cases where the audio book might work better than the print version, simply because it almost feels like a radio drama.

Once again, we have a couple of characters who seem to be important to the Themis project, and yet they have a sense of mystery surrounding them. A character known as Mr. Burns may or may not have a tenuous relationship with the aliens, but we still don’t learn much about him in this book. The unnamed narrator from the last book, however, finally reveals more about himself to Rose, in one of the more poignant scenes in the book. Even though the last part of the story felt a little rushed, as if the author was trying to wrap everything up within a certain page count, I loved the twists that come near the end, which are clearly leading up to events in the next book.

This is quite a fun series, although you must start at the beginning, because you’d be completely lost if you didn’t. Waking Gods not only tells a cautionary tale of alien invasion, but gives readers plenty of surprises along the way. I’ll be eagerly awaiting the next installment of this addictive series.

Tammy Sparks
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