In a word: A first-rate science fiction thriller with non-stop action, an evil baddie who scared even me, full of well-timed humorous banter, with an intriguing and unique concept of alien invasion.
I was so excited to jump back into Wesley Chu’s world when I received my copy of The Deaths of Tao, and I enjoyed every second reading about the fascinating aliens called the Quasing. The second book picks up about four years after the The Lives of Tao, and the characters we grew to love are in quite different places when the story begins. Chu’s trademark humor is still present, as are the dangerous situations our heroes, Roen and Jill, find themselves in. Reading Deaths is like riding a rollercoaster that never comes to a stop to let you off. Chu continually puts his characters in desperate situations, and the feeling of panic I felt while reading this book rarely went away.
To catch you up a little if you haven’t read the first book, The Lives of Tao, an alien species called the Quasing has been living among us for millennia, after crash-landing on earth millions of years ago. The only way for them to survive here is to inhabit the bodies of living organisms, which they have done since the time of the dinosaurs. Unbeknownst to most humans, the Quasing have been waging war against each other after splitting into two factions, the Prophus (the “good guys”) and the Genjix (the “bad guys”). Roen is fortunate to be the host of Tao, a Prophus who has lived many lives throughout history before he came to Roen. His estranged wife Jill is also a host, to a Prophus named Baji. When Deaths begins, Roen has been directed to go to Taiwan, where a group of Genjix have captured a Prophus submarine and are holding everyone on board hostage. But the murderous Genjix aren’t the only thing on Roen’s mind. He’s also trying to come to terms with the way he left his wife Jill and their son Cameron, and wondering what he can do to fix things with his family.
This time around Chu’s chapters alternate among three of the main characters: Roen and his Quasing Tao, Jill and her Quasing Baji, and a new character named Enzo and his Quasing Zoras. I liked the format very much. Although sometimes a linear formula is the way to go, I thought switching back and forth added lots of tension to the story, especially when Chu ends his chapters with cliffhangers. Just like in The Lives of Tao, my favorite human character is still Roen. Even with all the training he’s been doing since Tao took over his body, he’s still somewhat of an anti-hero who isn’t particularly fond of his new life as a secret operative, and wants nothing more than to reunite with Jill and Cameron. Roen’s inner conversations with Tao are still as hysterical as ever and kept me laughing. Tao still mourns the death of his last host, Edward, and constantly compares him to Roen and his never-ending list of shortcomings.
And just like in The Lives of Tao, I still didn’t care that much for Jill. Jill has become a political hard-hitter on Capitol Hill, which is probably why I didn’t connect with her. I have a hard time staying interested in politics in the first place, so those passages didn’t work as well for me. But even though Jill and Roen barely connect in this book, the tension between them is palpable. Jill is furious at Roen for leaving her and Cameron (at the insistence of Tao), and she’s not going to make it easy for him to come back. There are some sweet moments with three-year-old Cameron, but he was mostly off stage during the story.
It wouldn’t be a successful story without a bad guy, and The Deaths of Tao has one hell of a nasty character to make us lose sleep. Enzo has been raised from birth to be an “Adonis Vessel” for a Genjix someday, and his time has come. Enzo is a perfect specimen with amazing speed, strength and intelligence, and he is thrilled when he becomes host to Zoras. But the Genjix are cruel, even more so in this book because they are working towards wiping out the Prophus and trying to figure out alternate ways to survive on earth. Enzo is pure evil, and he won’t let anything get in his way until he gets what he wants.
One of my favorite parts of these books are the little slices of history that Chu gives us, which are endlessly fascinating. For example, Tao tells Roen about a fellow Prophus who once piloted the Enola Gay. Of course, I had to Google it, and was shocked to find out that the Enola Gay was the airplane responsible for dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. I loved these moments when I, not a history buff at all, could learn something new. Chu also prefaces each chapter with short bursts of the history of the Quasing, which read in order form a cheat sheet on how the world was manipulated by aliens, a truly brilliant idea!
The action never stops as Roen and friends get into one scrape after another. I won’t tell you how the story ends, but I can tell you there were several SHOCKING things that happen, making me wonder whether or not there’s going to be a third book. (I’ve heard rumors, but I don’t know for sure). Chu knows how to blend humor, thrills, terror and romantic angst into one entertaining package, and I can’t wait for more.
Many thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy.
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