Book Review: Sleeping Giants (Themis Files #1), Sylvain Neuvel (2016)

April 25th, 2016 7:00 am by mad mags

Already jonesing for the sequel!

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley. Possible trigger warning for medical rape.)

My deepest wish is for this discovery to redefine alterity for all of us.
The concept of “otherness”. What I am is very much a function of what I am not. If the “other” is the Muslim world, then I am the Judeo-Christian world. If the other is from thousands of light-years away, I am simply human. Redefine alterity and you can erase boundaries.

Definitely a girl! I couldn’t stop grinning when they brought the chest in. Her breasts aren’t that large, given her size, but they’re still bigger than my car. Perky … She must have been the envy of all the giant girl[s] back in her day.

—You’ve seen her a thousand times. She’s blindfolded holding a scale in one hand and a sword in the other.
—Is that who we call Lady Justice?
—More or less.

On her eleventh birthday, little Rose Franklin takes her new bike out for a spin in Deadwood, South Dakota…and ends up falling into what appears to be a massive crater. Only the walls are decorated in mysterious hieroglyphics, and at the bottom sits a giant metal hand.

Seventeen years later, Dr. Rose Franklin – now a physicist – finds herself at the University of Chicago, in charge of studying the very hand that cradled her so many years ago. It turns out that the hand is just one piece of a much larger puzzle (a message? a statue? a spaceship? a robot? all of the above?), and someone – or something – scattered the other dozen-odd pieces around the globe. Primed to react to argon-37, some of the pieces have begun “activating” now that humans have discovered how to “tap the power of the atom,” as it were, causing metal body parts to ascend to the earth’s surface from their hiding places some 900 feet underground. A phenomenon U.S. Army pilots Kara Resnick and Ryan Mitchell stumble onto quite unwittingly when their plane loses power over a pistachio field in Harran, Turkey – and crash lands right next to a forearm.

With Kara and Ryan’s help – as well as that of Vincent Couture, a linguist from Montreal; a Greek geneticist named Dr. Alyssa Papantoniou; and an enigmatic “friend” who orchestrates the project behind the scenes – Rose must locate, assemble, and decipher the meaning of this ancient mystery. As their research progresses, it becomes clear that this “badass-warrior” lady was buried on earth thousands of years ago by alien visitors – but for what purpose?

This book was impossible to put down. If I hadn’t been doped up on cold medicine, I probably would have finished it in one day. The story’s told through a series of documents: journal entries, phone calls, and interviews. When done well, I love this somewhat unconventional format – and Neuvel employs it with both skill and flair here.

(My only complaint, and I do mean only: I wish the documents were dated. While we do get some sense of a time scale from the interviews, the hints are scattered and make it difficult to easily date events in relation to one another. Then again, maybe that’s the point: to disconcert us and keep us on our toes. You know, kind of like everyone involved in the project, who are treated like pawns by the backers and masterminds.)

The chapters are really short and punchy, and propel the reader forward. Pretty soon it’s 1AM and you’re promising yourself “Just one more chapter before bed.” But when your e-reader tells you that the next chapter after that will only take one minute to read, how can you resist?

Sleeping Giants is billed as World War Z meets The Martian; while I’m not totally sold on The Martian (though I must admit to only seeing the movie), World War Z seems pretty spot-on. Only with aliens instead of zombies, and (at least so far) on a much shorter time scale and with less widespread panic and bloodshed. It’s also reminiscent of Illuminae, which is told in a similar document format. (Unlike Illuminae, Sleeping Giants doesn’t have a heavy graphic element, so it’s easy to read on a Kindle. If you pick up Illuminae, I highly recommend a print version.)

While you’d expect most of the draw to be the alien artifacts – and these are predictably fascinating – the human element is equally compelling. There’s a ton of (melo)drama going on behind the scenes, complete with mad scientists, human experimentation, blackmail, corporate espionage, and treason. The love triangle twist veers dangerously close to General Hospital absurdity, but once it becomes evident how essential the outcome is to the plot, I was willing to forgive the outrageousness of it all. This book is nothing if not bonkers (in the best way possible!), so.

Speaking of: that ending. THAT ENDING! Squee! This is why I usually wait until a series is complete to binge-read it. The first book hasn’t even been released yet, and already I am jonesing for the sequel.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)


Comments (May contain spoilers!)

Diversity: Not much. Dr. Alyssa Papantoniou, a geneticist brought on board by Dr. Franklin who eventually winds up in charge of the project, was born in Bosnia and has a speech impediment (stutter). When an inebriated Ryan Mitchell runs over Vincent Couture with his car, the doctor wants to amputate both his legs midway to the knees; instead, the interviewer blackmails him into using experimental procedures to rebuild the legs – with reversible knees, so that Vincent can operate the lower portion of the robot.

Animal-friendly elements: n/a


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