Waking Gods

Author: Sylvain Neuvel

Type: Fiction, novel

Part of series: The Themis Files (#2)

Published: 2017

I read it: April 2017

waking gods

In my review for Sleeping Giants I mostly talked about the structure and overall feel of falling into the story. Because this one is the same style with all the same characters, I have to talk about the plot itself. So here’s a GIANT ROBOT-SIZED SPOILER ALERT.

This sequel definitely hits the ground running. Or standing, rather, like the giant yellow-glowing robot standing in the center of London. (Once again the simple yet elegant connection to the cover art is just lovely.) This robot is instantly categorized as representing an alien invasion, and the home team’s blue robot, Themis, is really the only hope the world has.

Kara and Vincent are back in the pilot seats, after having taken a year off just touring with Themis and showing her off in parades and whatnot. Now they have a true interstellar battle, and they barely scrape by on their wits and reckless bravery. The whole book is about how the invasion just keeps scaling up while the humans somewhat hopelessly look on. People die by the… thousands? Millions? It’s hard to keep track, and it’s also hard for Neuvel to really convey the scale of the tragedies. Such is the risk of only having records of conversations between a small cast of characters. But it’s also unsettlingly realistic: we care most about the pain of a family member, a little about the pain of a neighbor, and hardly at all about strangers we can’t interact with directly. Maybe some intelligent aliens are studying us…

One big twist at the end of Sleeping Giants was the return of Rose Franklin (Rosalind Franklin?), who was deceased oh-so-temporarily. Here she is a sort-of clone but not really; neither she nor the reader can really grasp how she’s alive again, but it involves some fancy sci-fi talk. There’s also a new kid in the mix! The geneticist Alyssa ended up harvesting reproductive materials from Kara and Vincent after all, and there’s a daughter out there somewhere. Finally, the shadow man is doing his humorously shadowy things for most of the book, until he’s not anymore. Because to counterbalance the death of the masses, Neuvel writes in the deaths of at least two core characters.

Before his death, we learn that shadow dude’s life secret is that he had a sad life and found a way to deal in secrets. But other than that, he’s not in charge of anything. He operates on psychology and people’s need to believe in a cabal who is pulling the strings and always coming up with a plan so that the big picture works out in humanity’s favor. It just doesn’t happen that way, and things fall apart. Although in the end, Rose does get her chance to save the day (this may be the closest Neuvel comes to giving in and just writing a chosen one storyline) by doing a little War of the Worlds science experiment on the invaders.

Overall, book two didn’t have the same fresh thrill of discovery as the first one, but isn’t that always the case? Here the action clips along and the plot is as tight as ever, if a bit convenient at times. It also ends with a cliffhanger just in case. Themis has a father-daughter pilot team to root for, and it might finally be time to explore space itself. I just don’t know if it will be the same without shadow man, though. May his font rest in peace.

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