In Waking Gods, giant alien robots land in urban centres around the world. If that premise intrigues you, you should definitely give Sylvain Neuvel’s Themis Files trilogy (Waking Gods is Book 2) a try. Part of me is in total nerd heaven at the premise of this book — it’s not the military who can save us from the giant alien robots, but rather scientists. The military are all ready and eager to open fire and save the world, but it’s a task force led by a scientist who is tasked with coming up with a solution. Due to events in Book 1: Sleeping Giants, scientists have already been studying one of these giant alien robots for years, after a similar robot was discovered buried in the ground by Rose, the lead scientist on the project, when she was a little girl. Based on their study, they’ve managed to make the older robot functional, and it just needs two people in particular (a man and a woman with will-they-won’t-they romance) to operate it.
So far, so awesome. I personally would have preferred a bit more science in it. I was really excited that the solution seemed to be more an intellectual puzzle than just a straightforward action-packed battle, and in a way, this was the case as the big reveal that led to the solution had to do with science-related stuff. But most of the novel read like a Transformers movie, with stuff blowing up and teams of nameless good guys running right into the thick of danger. It’s fun and fast-paced action, and likely I wouldn’t have enjoyed too much hard-core science either, but in the beginning, I was expecting something more like Michael Crichton’s books, where there’s just enough scientific discussion to geek out over while still being accessible to non-scientists. Instead, the scientific and philosophical points here were quick throwaway lines, which makes sense given the urgency of their situation, but felt less exciting.
I’m also not a big fan of the style in which the story was told. Because there are so many characters, and lots of the chapters are told in unattributed dialogue, I found the middle of the story really confusing. I couldn’t understand what was happening, and at times, it felt like nothing significant was happening, which made the middle of the story feel really slow for me. The final third or so was the best part, where the pace finally picked up and it became an action-packed thrillfest. I compared the book earlier to a Transformers movie, and in a way, I think I would have enjoyed it more as a movie. The action scenes seem like they’d be a lot of fun to watch on-screen, and being able to put faces to the characters will be much more preferable to all the unattributed dialogue where the characters all end up sounding alike.
If you’ve read and enjoyed Sleeping Giants, you’ll likely enjoy this as well, as it significantly advances the stories of at least three of the main characters. If you enjoy giant alien robots and exciting action scenes, the final third alone makes reading the book worth it. I personally wanted more: the characters felt mostly flat, and the aliens’ motivation was fascinating but not quite as groundbreaking and impactful as I think it was meant to be. The story ended with a cliffhanger, setting up a whole new adventure for our main characters in Book 3. I’m afraid I just don’t care enough about any of the characters to be interested in what happens to them next.
Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.