SLEEPING GIANTS by Sylvain Neuvel – Review

I received this book for free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

SLEEPING GIANTS by Sylvain Neuvel – ReviewSleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel
Series: Themis Files #1
Published by Del Rey on April 26 2016
Genres: Adult, Science fiction
Pages: 320
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
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The nitty-gritty: A fascinating concept, political intrigue, plenty of mysteries, but written in a format that might not work for every reader.

I love reading hyped books like Sleeping Giants, because I like to form my own opinions. Sleeping Giants has received all sorts of starred reviews from review journals, but in the blogging community, reaction to the book seems to be on the cooler side. Many reviewers mention how hard it is to connect with the characters due to the epistolary format of the story. And to some extent, I agree with them. Sleeping Giants is told almost entirely as recorded interviews between an unnamed interviewer and the various characters connected to a secret project.  I honestly didn’t know how I was going to rate this until just now, but I settled on a four-star rating simply for the sheer imaginative brilliance of the idea. Also, I didn’t really mind the interview format, although I did have some issues with it (more on that later).

The basic set-up of the story goes like this: Quite by accident, a very large metal hand is discovered in the woods by a little girl named Rose Franklin. Years later, Rose has grown up to become a brilliant scientist and is now coincidentally in charge of the secret project to find the rest of the parts of a giant robot, supposedly scattered all over the world three thousand years ago by an alien race. Several other key players join the team, including helicopter pilots Kara Resnick and Ryan Mitchell, linguist Vincent Couture and scientist Alyssa Papantoniou. Over a period of years, the pieces are located, one by one, and the giant robot is finally assembled in all her full and magnificent glory (yes, it’s a female robot!).

The next logical step is to try to discover what the robot actually does, and so begins a tense and exciting section where the characters work to uncover its otherworldly mysteries. But unraveling the secrets of an alien object is challenging to say the least, and with tension mounting among the team members, it’s a race to figure things out before the team implodes.

Let’s start with the amazing idea behind Sleeping Giants: Three thousand years ago, aliens left clues for us to find, but only when we were advanced enough to figure out the puzzle. I won’t go into too much detail about the trigger that makes the pieces of the robot suddenly appear, or what happens when each piece is discovered, but trust me when I say it’s pretty cool. And when the team discovers a hatch in the back of the robot, the story takes on another layer as they try to figure out how to use her. I don’t want to give anything away, but there is a series of events that leads up to some very cool discoveries about the robot, although there is still a lot of mystery surrounding the reason the aliens left her for us to discover.

Sleeping Giants is a book full of big ideas, like how much power should one country have, even if they are the ones in charge of a (literally) gigantic secret? Neuvel shows us the political ramifications of a major discovery that is controlled by one country (the U.S.), even though the parts of the robot are found all over the world. And when the word “weapon” is mentioned, then you can imagine how the U.S.’s foreign allies and enemies feel about the project being hidden somewhere on U.S. soil. But as the scientists working on the project soon discover, alien technology is nearly impossible to control, and even the U.S. doesn’t know exactly what they’re dealing with.

You’ll notice I haven’t mentioned the characters yet, and there’s a good reason for that. As innovative as the story is, the interview format doesn’t leave a lot of room for detailed character development. With emotions being conveyed through the filter of an interviewer—in other words, we don’t get to see the interactions between the characters as are they are happening—there is a certain distance created, especially since we’re mostly hearing about events that have already happened. The characters I felt closest to were Kara, Ryan and Vincent, which doesn’t surprise me too much since there is also a love triangle involving these three. And before you roll your eyes, this particular love triangle is very important to the story, and when you read the book you’ll understand what I mean.

The main problem I had with the format was making sense of the span of years the story covers. I would have liked dates on the chapter headings to show how much time had gone by between interviews, but instead the author chose to label his interview sessions with file numbers: “File No. 161,” “File No. 189,” etc. Even though they are arranged chronologically, there were times when I was thrown off by how much time seemed to have passed between interviews, sometimes even years. The entire project spans decades, and sometimes the leaps between events were so abrupt that I wondered what I was missing.

I have to say I was waiting for a big plot twist, and although we do finally get one—sort of—it came at the end of the story and suggested that there is much more to the robot than meets the eye. Neuvel leaves plenty of questions unanswered, and because this is the first book in a series, I was OK with that. If you are the type of reader who enjoys puzzling out mysteries and doesn’t mind getting the information in bits and pieces, then you’ll mostly likely love this book. As for me, my curiosity is piqued and I’m on board for the next installment.

Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy.

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Posted May 26, 2016 by Tammy in 4 stars, Reviews / 18 Comments


18 responses to “SLEEPING GIANTS by Sylvain Neuvel – Review

  1. I began this book a couple of months back but had to put it back down because I couldn’t connect with the interview format of the book. However, your review has me convinced to pick it back up – because I want to find out more about the mystery and grand intrigue behind the story. Thanks for the review!
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    • Tammy

      It’s definitely a bit challenging, especially if you don’t read this format a lot, but there are super cool things ahead!

  2. I believe that with “Illuminae” I changed my mind about this kind of format for a book: it remains to be see if the author has managed the same kind of depth that was achieved by Illuminae’s writers – and from your review it would seem that the effect was not as successful here. But I’m intrigued, nonetheless, and will certainly give this one a chance.
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  3. I thought I’d like this more than I did. I had some issues with the interviewer/ narrator, at first I liked the shadowy government agent angle but towards the end I got annoyed a bit. Not sure why. It didn’t work for me as much as, say, Illuminae. Still I loved the concept of finding parts of a giant robot. I did like that it was a female too. 🙂

    I kinda thought the premise behind the existence of the robot seemed a little silly, but that might just be me. And I was surprised at the development regarding a certain character (trying not to be spoilery here) since I thought she’d play a bigger role given the beginning. So it was hit or miss for me although I do think it’s an interesting book.
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  4. My own reaction to this one was on the more tepid side, and at first seeing all the raving starred reviews out there made me wonder if I’m just being too picky! I love epistolary novels, but for a story made up entirely of interviews, I’d expected the dialogue would be better, more natural. And yeah, the emotional filter thing was a big issue for me!
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  5. For me, “epistolary” is the magic word. I realize that there is a definite disconnect from the characters usually with that type of format but damn do I love them. Will definitely be skipping the audio version of this though… epistolary is definitely something to read in physical. Great review!!
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  6. Despite my encounter with Snakewood earlier this year, I am big fan of epistolary stories. The Three by Sarah Lotz is great, and another book, that I don’t believe I have ever talked about before, is “Rant” by Chuck Palahniuk, which is an functional oral biography. I think I’d love to read this one solely based on the storytelling format.
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  7. Fee Roberts

    I’m intrigued by the way this book is written. Though, I have never read an epistolary novel before, I would love to check this book out.

  8. cali

    I’ve had my eye on this one for a while and I was afraid the format would get in the way of the story. Usually, epistolary or weirdly formatted books are right up my alley, but they’re not easy to do well. At least it sounds that this one is not so bad, although I’ll have to pay extra attention to the chronology when I do read it.

  9. josh_a

    This is the first review I’ve seen that really talked about the writing *style*. Still want to read it though. 😉

  10. Penny Olson

    Amazon was really hyping this book. I like the subject matter and the premise, but I’m not sure I’d get as attached to the characters with the format. Thanks for the review. I appreciate your opinion.