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
Series: Themis Files #1
Published by Del Rey on April 26 2016
Genres: Adult, Science fiction
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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.