Sleeping Giants (Themis Files #1) by Sylvain Neuvel
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
I am absolutely not your average reader of Science Fiction novels. In fact, I can safely say that besides about one other book in the past few years it is a genre I've avoided pretty much consistently. It is though significant that the other Science Fiction book I read, back in 2017, was one that has many similarities to Sleeping Giants and that was Illuminae by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman and I absolutely loved it just as much as I've fallen in love with this first novel in the Themis Files series.
Reading any new author can be daunting but reading one who is also a writer of an unusual genre for you is a bit like going on holiday to a new destination, you can have heard great things about it before you go but you never really know till you get there if it's going to be a holiday of a lifetime or you are going to be begging to go home. Sylvain Neuvel has impressed me no end with this novel which is written entirely in transcripts of interviews and meetings with the key characters and players within the narrative. There is no traditional storytelling, instead, we are given first-hand accounts from different perspectives of the action that is taking place. This does the wonderful thing of giving this book incredible pace. You cut right to the heart of what is going on and the result is that you literally cannot put it down. You want to devour it, you tell yourself just one more interview, one more file to read and before you know it you are another 20 pages through. I read this in just over 24 hours and even then it flew by like nobody's business.
The story itself is unusual, it begins when a young girl falls down into a crater whilst riding her new bike and finds herself being cupped in the palm of a giant metal robotic hand. There is a huge cover-up and not until many years later when the same girl is a qualified scientist do we find she has been recruited to help find the other pieces of what will eventually be a 20 storey high walking metal person with potential weapons capability.
There are a number of aspects to this story, firstly we have the political elements that we follow as countries around the world scramble to be the one to claim ownership of this new technology. Those who don't have it are terrified and want to see it safely contained whilst others will spend billions to develop it and find out as much as possible about how they could use it.
As well as the political element of the story we have the one that questions where the technology came from initially, tests show it is around 6,000 years old and contains elements that suggest it is not of this planet. This means that every evolutionary scientific finding is called into question and mankind must question everything we know about our origins and whether we are in fact alone in the world.
The first in a trilogy of books this is an incredible novel that I fell for absolutely within the first 30 pages. It isn't an overly long novel, coming in at 303 pages it is modest and it's format makes it feel much less dense than may other books you may pick up. I adored the characters, even though they are narrating through a mysterious central figure that connects all the players we learn a lot about their individual quirks and personalities and we really root for them. We don't miss the normal writer's techniques to tell us as a reader about every intricate detail they see and touch in order for us to understand their emotional journey.
We are also left with an interesting twist in the end of this book that will definitely bring readers back for more with novel number 2, Walking Gods and the third and final book in the trilogy, Only Human, which was only released this month. I had heard a fair bit of praise about this book before going in but this was absolutely worthy of every good review I've read. It challenged me by making me read something new but it won me as a reader by making it relevant to the world around me. It never failed to make it accessible and real world whilst still opening my mind to new ideas. An absolute triumph.