“SLEEPING GIANTS” BY SYLVAIN NEUVEL

Sleeping Giants | The Themis Files #1 | ISBN 9781101886694 | Del Ray, 2016 | 5 out of 5 Points

“A girl named Rose is riding her new bike near her home in deadwood, South Dakota, when she falls through the earth. She wakes up at the bottom of a square-shaped hole, its walls glowing with intricate carvings. But the firemen who come to save her peer down upon something even stranger: a little girl in the palm of a giant metal hand. Seventeen years later, the mystery of the bizarre artifact remains unsolved – the object’s origins, architects, and purpose unknown.

But some can never stop searching for answers. Rose Franklin is now a highly trained physicist leading a top-secret team to crack the hand’s code. And along with her colleagues, she is being interviewed by a nameless interrogator whose power and purview are as enigmatic as the relic they seek. What’s clear is that Rose and her compatriots are on the edge of unravelling history’s most perplexing discovery-and finally figuring out what it portends for humanity. But once the pieces of the puzzle are in place, will the result be an instrument of lasting peace or a weapon of mass destruction?”

LUDOVICA’S REVIEW

When a friend of mine gave me “Sleeping Giants”, I did not know what to expect other than a story about body parts made of iridium (which, as the skepticism of another friend (a chemistry PhD) taught me, is an extremely rare material) found all over the world. I didn’t know who Rose was, because the blurb on the edition I have is very enigmatic; I didn’t know that the interviewer was at all important at first, and I wasn’t sure whether they would even be able to find all body parts. That’s one reason why I like reading recommendations from friends, to be honest – the blurb doesn’t give you any preconceived notions about the book.

THIS IS BRAVO 4 SPEAKING, WE FOUND A GIANT… ARM?

One of those preconceived notions that the blurb of this book gives the reader is that Rose Franklin is the protagonist of this book. While Rose is incredibly important, the real protagonist is Chief Warrant Officer Kara Resnik, a headstrong helicopter pilot, who stumbles over one of the body parts while flying a mission for the US Army. Kara is an unpleasant, cynical person who really doesn’t seem like she’d be well-suited for life in the military, if she wasn’t so damn good at what she does. A lot of the plot is fueled by Kara disobeying orders, which makes her an even more compelling character, since the reader inevitably engages with her decisions and is made to wonder whether they were right or wrong, which, in the tradition of modern sci-fi, is very much not clean cut.

Another plot driving character, and one that might also be called a protagonist of sorts, is the enigmatic interviewer. We don’t know who they are, or why they are doing what they are doing, and throughout the book, it seems to become more and more important that we finally find out who is behind this mysterious person, especially as their involvement turns this science fiction novel more and more into a political thriller.

Not only is Kara a compelling protagonist and the mysterious interviewer an éminence grise that acts both as a reader stand-in and a plot mover, the rest of the cast is also very interesting and extremely well-written. Rose Franklin, of course, is one of the driving forces at the beginning of the novel, before Kara is recruited for the project and takes center stage, and I just really loved her science-mom personality, driven by the incredible need to find out what the body parts are and how to use them, while at the same time conflicted about what her discoveries will mean for the world and for the people under her direct care. Ryan Mitchell, Kara’s co-pilot when she stumbles over her body piece and her partner and friend, might seem like a typical military good-guy at first (or, as another character calls him, ‘Captain America’), but like everybody else in this book, he has some surprises up his sleeve that left me slamming the book shut and walking away before I could pick it up again. And then, of course, there is brilliant, arrogant, socially difficult Vincent Couture, linguist grad student and wild card, whose main asset is that he is talented, but not yet educated enough to be biased about the strange signs that are found with the hand Rose fell into as a child.

STATE YOUR NAME FOR THE RECORD, PLEASE

The story is told through interviews, mission logs, journal entries and the one or other newspaper article, which made reading it not only very fluent and smooth (I really like good dialogue, and good dialogue just oozes out of every page on this book) but also allowed the story to unravel in bits and pieces, with some conversations only making sense at the very last page of it, and with bigger and bigger reveals flowing out to the reader through off-handed remarks or mere implications. It’s the kind of story you need to read twice to get to all the hidden bits and pieces, but that also satisfies a reader’s need for closure after the first read just enough to make them chomp at the bits for the sequel that’s being published in April. Even though it’s a series, the book is completely self-contained, though. There are a few questions we still don’t know the answer to, but the ending was extremely satisfying, and I’d say it definitely means something if I say that, since I’m hardly ever really satisfied with the endings of novels.

To be honest, the idea of the book reminded me a little of Japanese Mecha anime, and then of course of Pacific Rim, which, as we all know, is heavily inspired by Japanese Mecha anime. But “Sleeping Giants” is definitely less over the top than Pacific Rim, and other than in pretty much any Mecha anime I’ve seen, there is only one giant vaguely humanoid weapon of mass destruction in this book. “Sleeping Giants” is surprisingly realistic as well in its portrayal of the political and military machinations that are necessary to collect – and then use – all the body parts, and in the description of scientific research and procedure. “Sleeping Giants” is very much set in our modern-day world, and it doesn’t look into the future as much as into the past, which makes it different from a lot of what people would generally associate with the genre name of ‘Science Fiction’. Of course, there is a lot of fictional science in this story, and a lot of the science is actually pretty well explained (and, if my friend who gave me the book and who is currently doing a double masters in physics, is to be believed, rather realistically), so while the stereotypical picture of ‘Science Fiction’ doesn’t quite fit, it definitely fits the meaning of the words.

It’s actually hard to write a review for a book that is just good, without giving you the precious clay that is bad writing or stupid plotlines that you can mold into review paragraphs. But there just isn’t anything bad about “Sleeping Giants”. It’s not quite my favorite book of all time (mainly because nothing will ever beat the brooding beauty of Tombs of Atuan), but damn, what a fun read. When I found out that the sequel will not be out until APRIL after finishing the first book, I actually got angry at my friend for a moment, because why would she give me a book as good as this when I’d have to wait for months before I would finally be able to delve deeper into this world of secret military operations and giant glowing robots? Why can’t I have the sequel NOW?

But yeah, if you’re at all into Sci-Fi – or into giant robots – you need to read this book. It’s a quick read but oh so deliciously complex at the same time, the characters are compelling and the revelations are stunning, and the ethical questions about military power and weapons of mass destruction posed by the story are achingly topical today. So, 5 of 5 points for “Sleeping Giants”, and my sincere recommendation: Go and read it now.

About Ludovica

Ludovica is a translator, writer and aspiring librarian, which is why she already practices getting as many books into her overflowing shelves as possible. She lives in the heart of the Alps, but dreams of a life in Canada.

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