Review: Waking Gods, Sylvain Neuvel


Sylvain Neuvel’s Waking Gods builds well on the excellent first novel, Sleeping Giants, though it feels slightly more constrained by the format.

Sometimes, what you need in your life is a story about alien robots. Waking Gods (and the first book in this series, Sleeping Giants, which I will attempt most strenuously not to spoil) fills that niche pretty well, especially considering the fact that there are humans who can pilot said alien robots.

Oh, there are more complex pieces of the story. However, those complexities revolve around the robots themselves and people’s relationship to said robots.

Before we get any further, it seems important to talk about the format of this novel. It’s set entirely in dialogue, from interviews to oral mission reports to remarks made at certain places which we shall not name to news reports. Keep that in mind for later.

Overall, Waking Gods gets a 5/5 stars, based on its killer giant alien robot action, its excellent characterization, and its generally-good use of its format.

The Good

Telling a story without more traditional narration is not easy. No omniscient or even limited voice really steps in. Perhaps the man with no name, who speaks in bolded text, counts. (I say perhaps for reasons that I hesitate to name. I’ve promised not to spoil as much as I can.)

However, the book easily conveys the action going on around the characters. It certainly helps that the characters actually have to say what they’re doing. Fortunately, their reasons for doing so do not seem contrived.

Additionally, not always having access to body language or facial expressions doesn’t hinder a reader from picking up on nuances in characterization. The majority of what a reader has is what these people say. In general, the voices are so well-done that it’s easy to follow a conversation. Nor does it stop there from being deep, emotional moments. Although I read Waking Gods, I imagine a fully voice-cast audiobook might end up being the optimal experience.

Finally, reading this book is simply fun because it doesn’t try and overstay its welcome, but manages to pack quite a bit into what ends up being a pretty short novel. My copy clocked in at just over 300 pages for the main story, and none of those pages felt wasted even as topics like genetics came up.

The Not-So-Good

There are only a few minor nitpicks I really have with Waking Gods. For the most part, as I said earlier, the book does fine with being clear about who’s speaking. There are a few tiny moments when there are multiple people in one conversation that may make a reader who’s flying through slow down a touch to be absolutely clear on who’s saying what when. Since this is a book that seems to encourage flying through because it really is that good, it seems a bit frustrating.

In fact, I may actually be frustrated that I cannot immediately pick up the third book and find out what happens. (No pressure, Mr. Neuvel, if you’re reading this.) That doesn’t really count as a criticism of this book, though, so much as an expression of excitement to see where the series goes next. Suffice it to say that this one ends on a very interesting note indeed.

The Recommendation

Obviously, the place to start for the Themis Files would still be Sleeping Giants, the first book in the series. The continuity between the two is rather important, even though Waking Gods picks up about ten years later. Fortunately, Sleeping Giants is also pretty good, even though I can’t review it here. Spend a weekend with these two books, especially if you’re into the more fast-paced side of science fiction.

Next: The New Books Roundup, April 4

Waking Gods is on sale starting today.