Review: Sleeping Giants (The Themis Files #1) by Sylvain Neuvel

When she’s eleven, Rose Franklin falls in mysterious hole at the end of her street and discovers something… strange.

The hole I was in was perfectly square, about the size of our house. The walls were dark and straight with bright, beautiful turquoise light shining out of intricate carvings. … There I was, this tiny little thing at the bottom of the hole, lying on my back in the palm of a giant metal hand.

Seventeen years later, no one can explain the hole. Or the hand. But Dr Franklin, now one of the world’s leading physicists, is determined to figure it out. Especially when similar, uh, artefacts begin to surface across the globe.

However, as the pieces literally start slotting into place, the question shifts from what Dr Franklin and her team have unearthed to how humanity will choose to use it.

I don’t read a lot of SF, so Sleeping Giants was an unusual choice for me, but the cover caught my eye (I know, cover snob: guilty as charged) and the premise had me intrigued. I mean, you give humans access to powerful technology, and it’s pretty even odds as to whether we’ll use it to publish pictures of our breakfast on the Internet or bring about the apocalypse. It’s always interesting to examine ethical questions around how we as people and nations apply technology.

I was also drawn to the fact that the entire story is narrated as a series of interviews between an unnamed interrogator and Dr Franklin, her team of specialists and a few high-ranking government officials. This fragmentary style seems to be in vogue right now, especially in SF. If fact, so does naming your series The Something Files (The Themis Files, The Illuminae Files, The Chequy Files) What’s up with that? But I digress. It reads like the modern equivalent of Gothic epistolary. The events of the story are recalled after the fact and distorted by time and bias rather than experienced direct by the reader; there are no primary sources. Neuvel gives readers the basic facts on the page, but there’s just as much story to be read in the characters’ pauses and silences. This, combined with the anonymous interviewer and the lack of information the characters and reader are given about whom he works for adds a sense of mystery and intrigue.

What I didn’t expect from Sleeping Giants, but found in spades, was humour. The premise has the potential to go to some very dark places and make for heavy reading. However, Neuvel asks his reader to ponder Big Questions about technology and warfare while keeping the mood light. I don’t want to give too much away about the ‘artefacts’ (and, boy, does not talking about them make this a tricky book to review), but I will say that there’s a standoff between a group of allied nations and North Korea that had me chuckling into my tea cup. Not typically my first reaction when I think of North Korean missiles. Neuvel knows his plot veers towards the ridiculous, and he has fun with it. Dr Franklin’s team may have some hefty responsibilities to bear, but they’re also human. Their attempts to decode the hand and all that comes with it are interrupted and derailed by petty squabbles and lovers’ spats. And they’re all utterly infuriated by the anonymous interviewer’s refusal to reveal anything about himself, his employer (if he has one) or the reason for the interviews. Neuvel’s wit is somewhat reminiscent of Neil Gaiman and Daniel O’Malley.

Sleeping Giants is the first in a series, so, as you might expect, there’s a lot of set-up, and if I had one criticism, it’s that there’s too much set-up. The bulk of the story is devoted to finding the artefacts and figuring out how they work. I felt like I was watching Neuvel painstakingly build a really cool toy and I just wanted him to get on with it so we could start to play. That said, it’s a highly entertaining page-turner, and I can’t wait to see where he takes the story in book two.


See Sleeping Giants on Goodreads and purchase through BooktopiaAmazonBook Depository and Kobo.

Thank you to Penguin UK for providing a copy of Sleeping Giants in exchange for an honest review.

Thanks also to Grammarly for picking up nine critical issues and eighteen advanced issues in my draft of this review. If, like me, you have trouble with typos, do give Grammarly a go!

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