Book Review: ‘Waking Gods’ by Sylvain Neuvel

waking gods sylvain neuvel

Nearly-Curbed Enthusiasm:

I am on the verge of retracting my previous enthusiasm for stories that are comprised of a collection of documents/files/transcripts/etc. after finishing Waking Gods, the second installment in The Themis Files series. But, something else tells me it works with a restricted range of narrative possibilities. The Martian was brilliant, documenting the struggle and ineffable optimism of a human as he sought to survive on a planet thousands of miles from his own. World War Z had variety, told personal stories and led us through a zombie-apocalypse with a very human touch. Sleeping Giants followed the developments and setbacks of a team as they sought to uncover the greatest revelation in human history.

And, So What?

Waking Gods…was a collection of news reports, government bickering, and a whole lot of ‘you got to see this’ followed by ‘not now’ followed by ellipses. The plot and unexpected revelations were all fine, if only they hadn’t been weighed down by writing that felt significantly weaker than the prior novel. The whole story felt like those movies where the first few minutes is a newscast talking about whatever disaster the story would be about. Two hundred and eighty pages of that.

For a story about the fate of humanity, there was little incentive for me, as a human, to be involved in the story. It might simply have been that the characters had aged a decade since the events of Sleeping Giants, but they felt unfamiliar. Their dialogue and audio logs seemed to be missing a layer of polish.

And perhaps, therein lies the danger of this sort of narrative presentation. You need to have the characters do more than what normal people would do in their situations, keeping their dialogues interesting without sacrificing believability. In other styles, you can have visual descriptions do some of the hard work, even distracting from the insincerity of the dialogue, but with this, it is all you have. And Waking Gods did not do much for me in this regard. Much of it felt flat, and even when a death or two occurs, I simply turned the page and got on with it.

But, despite the shortcomings, it still was a decent enough read that takes only a couple hours to get through. Just sufficient enough that I will take a look at the third installment. Gambler’s fallacy though it may be.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5