Book Review: Waking Gods (Themis Files #2) by Sylvain Neuvel (2017)

April 18th, 2017 7:00 am by mad mags

A satisfying follow-up to Sleeping Giants.

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley.)

If I grab a bunch of matter, anywhere, and I organize it in exactly the same way, I get … you. You, my friend, are a very complex, awe-inspiring configuration of matter. What you’re made of isn’t really important. Everything in the universe is made of the same thing. You’re a configuration. Your essence, as you call it, is information. It doesn’t matter where the material comes from. Do you think it matters when it comes from?

—Do you really wanna grow old with just grumpy old me?
—No offense, Kara, but I don’t think either of us will get to grow old, especially if we’re together. The only question is: Do I wanna die young with anyone else?

Now the world is ending and somehow I’ve managed to make that about me too.

— 4.5 stars —

It’s ten years after the events in Sleeping Giants – Sylvain Neuvel’s AMAZING debut novel – give or take, and the aliens have finally returned to Earth to reclaim their war bot, Themis. Army pilot Kara Resnick and Canadian linguist Vincent Couture are still at Themis’s helm, but after the show of force in Korea, their role has been more benign: touring the world, speaking to schoolkids, and doing PR for the Earth Defense Corps. In between celeb sightings and autograph signings, the squints in the basement are still studying Themis, trying to figure out what else she can do, but their progress has more or less slowed. It doesn’t help that head scientist and the first person to discover Themis – or her hand, anyway – Rose Franklin hasn’t really had her head in the game. Not since she was brought back from the dead.

When a second robot materializes in the heart of London, earth’s tenuous peace is disrupted in a matter of hours, with some pushing for a first strike and others wanting to approach their alien overlords/benefactors in the spirit of love and cooperation. Considering the synopsis, I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that things go sideways but fast. Themis can maybe take on one robot, but thirteen? Who are Themis’s creators, and what do they want from us? And how do Rose and Eva factor into their plans? Perhaps most importantly, what does it take to get someone to kick mad scientist/medical rapist Alyssa Papantoniou in her stupid smug face?

However you felt about Sleeping Giants is a pretty good indication of your likely reaction to Waking Gods, for the latter is a natural and harmonious extension of the former; these books are cut from the same cloth. From the narrative format – the story is presented as a series of documents, collectively called the Themis Files, including interviews, journal entries, news reports, and transmission transcripts – to the cheeky sense of humor (Mr. Burns and the anonymous, Cigarette Smoking Man-esque interviewer both grew on me in leaps and bound) the vibe is really quite similar.

Many of the characters you loved/hated/loved to hate turn up again in the sequel, if only for a brief cameo; and Neuvel also introduces us to some new players that are more or less guaranteed to steal our hearts and imaginations. There is one character death – I won’t say who! – that I’m still rather pissed about, but them’s the breaks. I’m inclined to call foul when a woman’s sacrificed to advance the story line, but in this case it doesn’t feel like she was fridged, so there’s that at least.

While Goodreads currently only lists two books in the series, Waking Gods ends on a serious cliffhanger note, so I don’t think this is the last we’ve seen of the Themis Files. And, just as with the original – I’m already 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!)

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