Waking Gods

In my review of Sylvain Neuvel's Sleeping Giants, I explained how the novel spent the better part of last year on my "Maybe" pile of books to read. The premise was definitely intriguing and I really wanted to give it a shot due to the fact that the author was also Québécois. Still, every time I thought it was its turn in the rotation, something came up and I had to postpone reading it. There was always another book, another commitment. Realizing that maybe it wasn't meant to be, last fall I put Neuvel's science fiction debut in one of the boxes of novels I donate to local libraries and that was that. Or do I believed.

I forgot all about it, but a few weeks later a copy of the trade paperback edition showed up in my mailbox. Thinking that maybe the universe was trying to tell me something, I resolved to give it a shot as soon as possible. And once I was done reading it I felt like a complete fool, for Sleeping Giants would have made my speculative fiction Top 10 of 2016. There was a lot to love about this debut, and it left the door open for much more in the upcoming sequels.

I had no intention to repeat the same mistake, so Waking Gods went to the top of the pile as soon as I received it. And like its predecessor, it's another compelling read!

Here's the blurb:

In the gripping sequel to Sleeping Giants, which was hailed by Pierce Brown as “a luminous conspiracy yarn . . . reminiscent of The Martian and World War Z,” Sylvain Neuvel’s innovative series about human-alien contact takes another giant step forward.

As a child, Rose Franklin made an astonishing discovery: a giant metallic hand, buried deep within the earth. As an adult, she’s dedicated her brilliant scientific career to solving the mystery that began that fateful day: Why was a titanic robot of unknown origin buried in pieces around the world? Years of investigation have produced intriguing answers—and even more perplexing questions. But the truth is closer than ever before when a second robot, more massive than the first, materializes and lashes out with deadly force.

Now humankind faces a nightmare invasion scenario made real, as more colossal machines touch down across the globe. But Rose and her team at the Earth Defense Corps refuse to surrender. They can turn the tide if they can unlock the last secrets of an advanced alien technology. The greatest weapon humanity wields is knowledge in a do-or-die battle to inherit the Earth . . . and maybe even the stars.

As critics have mentioned, Neuvel's The Themis Files is reminiscent of Andy Weir's The Martian and Max Brooks' World War Z, but only as far as the format is concerned. Once more in Waking Gods, the tale is told through a variety of recorded interviews and journal entries. I had doubts regarding such a dossier-like format at the beginning of Sleeping Giants, yet one soon gets used to the unconventional narrative structure. True, it remains an unorthodox way to convey the story, but it sort of gives this series its unique flavor.

The main question had to do with whether or not Waking Gods would suffer from the middle book syndrome. This being the author's only second published novel, I wasn't the only reader wondering if Sylvain Neuvel could do it again. Sleeping Giants was released without much fanfare, with no lofty expectations. But with the critical and commercial success of his scifi debut, there is no denying that Waking Gods had to deliver in order to satisfy fans. And I'm glad to report that this sequel is as good as its predecessor. Indeed, it lives up to the potential generated by Sleeping Giants and then some!

Once again, the interviews and journal entries allow readers to delve into the psyche of every character and to get to know them on a deeper level than I expected. As was the case with Sleeping Giants, the debriefings and interviews are conducted by a shadowy figure of power whose identity is finally revealed. I had a feeling that the disclosure of that particular secret might make or break the series, what with how powerful and high-placed this cold-blooded man appeared to be, but I'm not sure it had the sort of impact people were anticipating. Dr. Rose Franklin, now back from the dead, who used to be the heart and soul of the team, has an identity crisis. Kara Resnik and Vincent Couture are in a relationship and trying to make it work. Ryan Mitchell and Alyssa Papantoniou also return in this second installment, though not in ways they expected to be. Eva Reyes, a young girl who has strange dreams, and Eugene Govender, Commander of the Earth Defense Corps, are two new POV protagonists. And the mysterious Mr. Burns also makes a few appearances.

Like its predecessor, Waking Gods is a strange sort of hybrid. At its heart, once again it's a science fiction work that explores larger-than-life concepts and their impacts on the protagonists themselves and the world at large. It's also a political novel that explores the geopolitical conflicts caused by the shocking appearance of numerous robots similar to Themis all across the globe. Although science plays a major role in this one, I don't consider Waking Gods to be a hard scifi book. There are just enough scientific details to satisfy purists, yet the narrative is imbued with a sense of wonder that elevates this novel to another dimension. The realization that we are not alone in the universe and that an ancient civilization is light-years ahead of us technologically had dramatic repercussions all over the world, and now Earth seems threatened by that vastly superior foe. I feel that Sylvain Neuvel did a good job portraying just how arrogant and stupid mankind can be during times of crisis. I did not expect the body count to be quite so high and the destruction to be so widespread, but it's obvious that the author took it up a notch in this sequel. And the way the book ends sets the stage for what should be a gripping finale in the third installment.

Waking Gods is another relatively fast-paced read. Once more, I finished this second volume in just a few sittings. The chapters/files are short, feature interviews/debriefings/journal entries that focus on a single protagonist, and move across the timeline at a pretty good clip. If anything, this one might be even more page-turning than Sleeping Giants, especially once the proverbial shit hits the fan. From that point on, you just have to keep on reading to discover what happens next!

Sylvain Neuvel wrote another interesting, thought-provoking, and entertaining novel. Waking Gods is definitely one of the science fiction books to read in 2017!

The final verdict: 8/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

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