Sleeping Giants, Sylvain Neuvel: Book Review

sleeping giants sylvain neuvel book reviewDel Rey / The Wall Street Journal
Sleeping Giants Book Cover Sleeping Giants
Themis Files #1
Sylvain Neuvel
Science Fiction, Fantasy
Del Ray Books
April 26, 2016

A girl named Rose is riding her new bike near her home in Deadwood, South Dakota, when she falls through the earth. She wakes up at the bottom of a square hole, its walls glowing with intricate carvings. But the firemen who come to save her peer down upon something even stranger: a little girl in the palm of a giant metal hand.

Seventeen years later, the mystery of the bizarre artifact remains unsolved—its origins, architects, and purpose unknown. Its carbon dating defies belief; military reports are redacted; theories are floated, then rejected.

But some can never stop searching for answers.

Rose Franklin is now a highly trained physicist leading a top secret team to crack the hand’s code. And along with her colleagues, she is being interviewed by a nameless interrogator whose power and purview are as enigmatic as the provenance of the relic. What’s clear is that Rose and her compatriots are on the edge of unraveling history’s most perplexing discovery—and figuring out what it portends for humanity. But once the pieces of the puzzle are in place, will the result prove to be an instrument of lasting peace or a weapon of mass destruction?

Sleeping Giants, the first book in the Themis Files series by Sylvain Neuvel, is the book I have been searching for all year. I have read so many wonderful books in the past seven months – books that were well-written, detailed, and incredibly unique – and, while I loved a lot of them, almost all of them were missing something.

Sleeping Giants was absolutely incredible. I don’t say that lightly, either. I loved everything about this book. From the format to the characters, and even the world-building, everything was damn near perfect. To think that after two hours searching my local Barnes and Noble for something new to read in the fantasy and science fiction genre would lead me to a series that could potentially end up among my all-time favorites was a surprise, to say the least.

While searching the shelves, I noticed a bright, aqua-colored spine that immediately caught my attention. Have you ever taken a look at the cover of a book and immediately decided that you had to read it? That was me with Sleeping Giants. The cover is so pretty! On top of that, the font definitely has a cool sci-fi feel to it that makes you want to know more about the contents of the novel itself. Pair the irresistible cover with the synopsis, and any fan of Stranger Things will be sold immediately, which is why I made the decision to buy Sleeping Giants then and there without looking at any reviews or ratings.

This review contains quotes from the book.

From the very beginning, I did not know what to expect from Sleeping Giants. As I had never heard about the novel before, I went into it completely blind and found myself a little thrown off by the format. While the very beginning of the novel is structured like your typical novel, as soon as you get past the prologue you notice something incredibly different about Neuvel’s book – it’s written in the form of interviews, voice recorded journal entries and experimentation logs. Sounds weird, right? Besides the incredibly unique nature of the format, which stands out at first glance, it fits the novel perfectly.

I love detail and description. It’s one of my favorite things about the fantasy and science fiction genres. I seriously cannot get enough of good, well-written, and some would say, over the top levels of detail. The interview and data log structure gives Neuvel the chance to provide an immense amount of detail from the perspective of multiple characters. If the novel wasn’t about recovering an ancient robot artifact, it would never work, but it does because there is so much discovery involved in the journey to uncover the mystery behind a gigantic hand.

Which brings me to the plot. If you read the synopsis and were expecting to hear more from Rose, as a narrator, you will be surprised to find that the interviewer, an unnamed man, is more of a narrator than anyone else is. Partly because he leads almost each and every conversation, as the vast majority of Sleeping Giants consists of interviews, and partly because he is manipulative and seemingly in the know where the artifact is concerned, the interviewer runs the entire show. And, while he is certainly forceful and manipulative, he is quite enjoyable to read. There is so much ambiguity surrounding his character, that, for a long time, I was convinced he was a robot by his manner of speaking and complete and total lack of emotion. In fact, I’m still not one hundred percent sure who he is – the reader is given absolutely no information about his physical appearance. Nevertheless, despite his incredibly harsh and manipulative demeanor, he is an absolute delight to read, in part, because of his lack of empathy and emotion:

I have the utmost respect for the National Security Agency. I also hold my dentist and my accountant in very high esteem. I have not, however, asked either of them to lead our research team.

Irony is not one of my favorite modes of communication, but I can still recognize it.

– excerpt from Sylvain Neuvel’s Sleeping Giants

In this otherwise intense, and at times, horrifying novel, the interviewer is a wonderful touch of comic relief, even though he is not the best moral character. In fact, he makes a lot of very controversial decisions throughout the novel.

To talk about the plot, it is essential to mention the interviewer. Even though Rose, a physicist who is in charge of the project to recover and research the remaining pieces of a gigantic hand that she happened upon as a child, is leading the project, she is actually not the one in charge of the entire situation. The interviewer is, and he has an astounding amount of resources at his disposal. It is the interviewer that brings that artifact research team together, composed of Rose, two members of the US army, Kara and Ryan, a linguist, Vincent, and a geneticist, Alyssa. And, despite the interview format, each character has a well-developed, unique personality. In fact, by using a format that is centered around questions, answers, and general conversation, Neuvel is able to give each character a unique voice. From the brash attitude of Kara, to the anxiety of Alyssa, the interview format makes it possible for Neuvel to develop, in detail, six different characters through word choice, sentence structure, and dialogue.

Without giving away any spoilers, Sleeping Giants is split into seven parts if you include the prologue and epilogue. Each part deals with a different part of the discovery and research project, which is in charge of finding and using a massive ancient warrior, deemed the “artifact”. Throughout the novel, the research team continues to make progress toward their goal of learning more about the people (presumably aliens) who left behind a device to be used for protection only, despite its size, durability, and capability to produce mass amounts of damage.

As more is discovered about the artifact, which is eventually found and put together (quite early on, in fact), more is revealed about the characters, who are all dedicated to the success of the project. As the characters begin to learn more about the artifact, they find themselves caught up in the importance of the discovery. Not only does it prove that life outside the human race exists, but it makes it clear that society is not as stable or as willing to change as they originally thought. Through the discovery and research efforts put into the artifact project, Sleeping Giants is able to touch on the importance of technology, the political implications of technology, and the role that the government plays behind the scenes.

Although the novel is written in such a simple way, there are so many hidden details and intricacies that pull the reader in and force them to ask a number of difficult questions. Thought provoking, challenging, and completely unlike anything I have ever read before, Sleeping Giants is a must read science fiction book that will cause you to really think about the world around you. Full of incredible detail, an interesting cast of characters, hidden secrets, and just a touch of romance, Sleeping Giants is well worth the read. And, while you might be tempted to read it all in a single sitting, I urge you to spend your time on this one – it’s worth it.

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Melissa Ratcliff
the authorMelissa Ratcliff
Senior Staff Writer
Reader, Writer & Translator. Cats, books and video games are my life.