Review: Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel
[This is a spoiler-free review.]
It’s true; a decent percentage of the fiction books I read take place in a specific galaxy far, far away. That percentage becomes even larger if we’re only talking about sci-fi and fantasy. It’s probably apparent that I really really like Star Wars. But there was a time when there weren’t as many Star Wars books to fly through as well as a time before I knew Star Wars books even existed.
Back then my sci-fi picks were often rather random. Sometimes that worked out well. Other times – not so much. These days I’m lucky enough to get recommendations from people who know what I’m looking for in the ways of storytelling.
That’s how I landed on Sylvain Neuvel’s Sleeping Giants.
The only background I was given going in is:
- I might like it.
- There’s going to be more.
- The film rights have already been picked up.
Because of that experience there’s a part of me that wants to stop right here and say “GO READ IT.” I know the writing style won’t be for everyone though and some people will want a little more to go on than what I had. So if you have concerns, read on.
Publisher Penguin Random House / Del Rey says this book is written in the tradition of Michael Crichton, World War Z, and The Martian. Out of those I’ve only read Michael Crichton so far and I’ll say there’s definitely some Crichton-esque slippery slope issues as well as that sense of foreboding. I understand The Martian was written like a series of diary entries and there is some similarity in that respect. Sleeping Giants is a series of transcripts from interviews, a few journal entries, and news items, which on a surface level sounds like it could get monotonous.
Instead it was thrilling as each new piece fell into place. There’s a certain anticipation that comes from knowing you’re not getting all the information, knowing that you’re often limited to not only those particular characters’ perspectives but also what they’re willing to share. Sometimes things are spelled out exactly. Sometimes you’re given more information later. Other times you need to fill in some blanks yourself. I wouldn’t call it a straightforward mystery, but there’s definitely a mysterious element to it.
Part of which is the closest thing we have to a consistent narrator – the unidentified man conducting most of the interviews. From the opening chapter I’ll admit I thought this was going to be the story of Rose Franklin, the 11-year-old who fell into a hole and landed on a giant metallic hand. In some ways it is, but it’s several other characters’ stories too and, most of all, the story of this perplexing set of artifacts.
One of my favorite characters turned out to be a pilot named Kara. About halfway through I realized she reminded me a bit of Kara Thrace from Battlestar Galactica crossed with Star Wars Legend’s Jaina Solo. For some of you reading this, I probably should have started with that. And yet, I really don’t want to share too much more about these distinct and complex characters or plot because Sleeping Giants is an experience to be had. There are Star Wars references though and it’s set on Earth. That’s as much as I’m willing to give you on specifics.
There came a point where I felt like I needed to stop reading because it all felt so real. Simultaneously, I didn’t want to stop reading because I needed to know what happened next. It’s sci-fi that’s personal and large-scale. Neuval’s writing is effective and efficient and makes questionable science sound possible. It’s a little scary too.
My only complaint is I thought it was ending earlier than it did. This probably sounds weird when I’m also saying I really enjoyed reading this book. But it seemed like we reached a stopping point and then a new book started. That threw me a bit. Now there are going to be more books in this series, which is referred to as The Themis Files. It’ll be interesting to see if that last chunk better belonged with the next one. I’ll definitely be reading.
Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel came out in April. His follow-up Waking Gods is due next April.
To the person who gifted me this book: Thank you so much. You were right.
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