Review by Mark Palm.
Unless I am mistaken this is a first for me. I have never written a review of the second book in a series without reviewing the first, but that is exactly what I am going to do here, because I read Sleeping Giants, by Sylvain Neuvel, on my own and was so impressed that I decided to review the sequel, Waking Gods.
The first novel is basically the story of Rose Franklin, a young girl who falls into a hole near her home and is found soon after atop a giant mechanical hand that appears to be of extraterrestrial origin. The story than shoots forward to Rose as an adult, now a physicist, who is tasked, along with an Army pilot Kara Resnik, and a linguist, Vincent Couture, with finding the rest of the pieces of the robot, assembling it and figuring out why and how it works. Once they assemble and manage to make the robot, called Themis, how to work they discover is awesome power. Then they must deal with when and how it should be used.
Mr. Neuvel does away with conventional narrative and instead uses a mix of journal entries, mission logs, news articles and interviews to tell the story, and this approach works in spades, giving the fantastic concepts a realistic feel. It also shows Mr. Neuvel’s great grasp of dialogue and moves the story along with a brisk pace. Because while the author does not shy away from big ideas and ethical issues, this book is primarily a thriller. Now there is a lot more to this book, but remember, I am just setting the stage for Waking Gods.
The sequel begins nine years after the end of the first book, and a lot has changed. The difficulty for me, is in explaining the complexity of this book while trying to avoid spoilers for not one, but two separate novels. I will gamely try.
As big as things were in Sleeping Giants they get much bigger, and darker in Waking Gods. Rose who disappeared in the first book returns, under circumstances that border on the miraculous. The shadowy nameless figure that provides a lot of the narration and exposition comes into clearer focus, and most disturbing is the sudden appearance, in London, of another robot, similar to Themis, but with some differences. After the new robot, called Kronos, destroys London, causing massive casualties, Themis is called into action to battle Kronos.
Now if this sounds like the plot to a low-budget Anime TV show, know that I am aware of that. And also know that I have only barely scratched the surface of the scale of events of Waking Gods, which approaches Armageddon levels of disaster. I am also stinting on the story-lines of multiple characters, many of whom I have not even mentioned, evolve and grow, and become more complex and vivid. As I said earlier, I am in new territory here.
What keeps this all together is the deft touch of Mr. Neuvel. Despite all of the giant robots and global cataclysms this novel is kept grittily realistic by the depth and complexity of the characters, the surety of the plotting, and the author’s pitch-perfect ear for dialogue. The action may recall the big-budget stories of the silver screen, but the heart of this book, of both books, is grounded in the quotidian reality of character and story. Quite an achievement in a novel about giant robots fighting. I can’t wait for book three.