Review: Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel

Posted by DarkChaplain at 5/08/2016
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 was recommended to me by my girlfriend, after she won a Goodreads giveaway for it a couple of months back. She read and enjoyed it, and told me about the epistolary style of the book. It is written almost entirely in interviews with the various characters, with some reports and personal logs sprinkled throughout.
So, knowing that, I waited for the audiobook version to get released - getting to hear all these interviews performed by a full cast of actors was incredbily cool, and I'd recommend that way of experiencing the novel wholeheartedly!

The Story:
"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?"

The Review
The book starts with the discovery of a giant hand of seemingly alien origin. Twenty years on, a team is assembled to figure out its origins, nature and how to put together a whole giant robot out of the pieces that popped up, first inadvertently, then deliberately searched for.

We are presented with Dr. Rose Franklin, who as a child discovered the hand herself, and now leads the research team. She is joined by Kara Resnik and Ryan Mitchell, former military pilots, and soon after by Vincent Couture, a highly intelligent graduate student tasked with figuring out the alien language found with the hand. The choice of having a student working on that may seem strange at first, but makes a lot of sense considering how it is explained in the book.

In general, a lot of things make sense and are explained well enough to make this book appeal to scifi fans of all ages. Sleeping Giants doesn't leave you out in the rain. Instead it delivers examples, analogies, elaborations, all kinds of info-nuggets, through the interviews.
The enigmatic, unnamed Interviewer himself plays a big role throughout, and I had a difficult time to decide whether to trust him or not. He has some obvious agenda of his own, and a lot of his words felt underhanded and fake, but as the story progressed, I couldn't be sure about things anymore.

I'd pin that down to just how good of a job Neuvel did at presenting us with believable character development. Everybody develops in one form or another. They all have their time to shine, their role in the story. While some characters pop up only a few times, like the President of the United States' secretaries, or military personell, they all do a fantastic job fleshing out the situation within the research facility and the outside world, without diving too deeply into exposition.

We don't have to see all things happen and have them spelled out clearly. Instead, Neuvel decided to confront us with their consequences, or character dynamics. It is enough for the reader to piece together tragic events from hearing about them via arguments between two characters. A lot of my enjoyment with the book came from anticipating the effects of various actions the characters took.

Action, intent and consequence are aspects that were explored marvelously by the novel. It also has a very human heart in its delivery.
Sleeping Giants is an incredible debut novel. It has just the right amount of hard scifi mixed with an enjoyable, almost lighthearted tone - until things start to go horribly wrong for everyone involved. The stakes are constantly rising, and while most of the book doesn't feature a real antagonist for our protagonists, besides time, frustration and the riddles of the alien robot, I never felt bored or needed more to happen.

I saw a few reviews criticising the "info-dump" nature of the book. Honestly, I don't see it. Even if that was the case, there's nothing wrong with that to me as a science fiction reader. I love info-dumps. I love being treated with respect by the author, and left to figure things out along the way. Getting a lot of information on scientific methods, experiments and technology is a big plus. I'd like to understand the background of the processes, not just be told to shut up and accept things as they come.

In any case, the book dispenses with its information in a very rational, procedural way. It doesn't aim to overwhelm, even though revelations can start rolling at times. It gives the reader what they need to get a good feel for the current events and new breakthroughs, and not much more. The Interviewer keeps things from characters at times (well, most of the time), but might discuss said things with a different character. So while Kara, Rose and co might not be in the know for a time, the reader probably is - but only to a certain extent, as there are bound to be more surprises along the way.

It helps that I very much enjoyed the cast. I liked most of them, from the cynical Kara over the pragmatic genius Vincent to the various side characters. There is a good amount of conflict between parties, too. In a way, Sleeping Giants is just as much about the people working at the project, their lives, views and feelings, as the alien mystery.

And holy cow did the actors deliver in the audiobook! Everybody was competent and got right into character. You can hear them enjoying their work, and getting a good feel for the characters' attitudes, inflections and levels of excitement or frustration. They'd shout where appropriate, laugh together, joke, react to their surroundings.. It really is the whole deal. The complete lack of an omnipresent narrator (besides announcing chapter titles/file numbers and news articles, I guess) within the story means that outside of personal logs, you'll always have an interplay between two or more characters. They're actual conversations and a joy to listen to.

I am honestly trying to keep as much of the plot under wraps as I can here. It is such a good ride, spoiling it would be a shame on my part. The story really unfolds at a good pace, and gets exponentially more complex and exciting. You're in for a ride in a giant alien robot, though, that much I am willing to tell you!
If you can, pick up the audiobook. To me, that seems like the ideal way of getting the most out of the story. Trust me, it is worth it.

Sleeping Giants on Goodreads

About the Author

I'm known as DarkChaplain across the internet, and call myself a passionate gamer and book enthusiast. I have been blogging mostly about games for a couple of years, but finally found my way to reviewing a different medium: Books. Honestly, I prefer that job so far.
Follow Me on Twitter @TheDarkChaplain


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