Sleeping Giants: Book One of the Themis Files

By Sylvain Neuvel
Del Ray/Random House. ©2016
ISBN: 9781101886717
Trade Paperback, 336 pages

11-year-old Rose Franklin sneaks out of her house to ride her new birthday bike and wakes the next morning in an enormous metal hand lying at the bottom of a deep, square hole whose walls glow turquoise light through intricate carvings. Seventeen years later, she’s the senior scientist on a team assigned to study the hand, whose every detail defies understanding. Experts discount carbon dating results, but Rose isn’t convinced. It isn’t just the age of the thing; it’s everything else. The metals of which it’s made. Its weight and design. The symbols in the hole where it was found. The turquoise light. Despite herculean efforts, the team is getting nowhere. Rose begins to believe the mystery will never be solved.

Chief Warrant Officer Kara Resnik pilots a Blackhawk helicopter on a nighttime secret mission over Syria. As she returns to Turkish airspace, she and her copilot spot strange lights in a dark field below. Moments later, her engine dies, and the chopper drops like a stone. Kara escapes from the wreckage to find an enormous metal artifact with turquoise veins of light webbing the surface. Turkey wants it. U.S. military officials claim the find is part of an old U.S. plane crash. Kara doesn’t care, either way.

But Rose does. She believes the artifacts are connected, and so do the U.S. Powers That Be. The race for control that follows changes the course of history, and upturns the lives of everyone involved.

This is the best book I’ve read in a very long time. The entire tale unfolds in bits and pieces of interviews, log entries and experiment reports which reveal details in a round-about way that worked quite well. Giants takes place on a believable global stage full of intrigue and conspiracy. Location is usually revealed at the beginning each interview, report or news article. Passage of time is revealed in the things the characters say, either to each other or in their log entries.

We are seldom in a character’s head; instead, we learn their thoughts through probing questions from the interviewer—who is never named, but who we learn is powerful enough to know connections and details he shouldn’t, who has friends in many places, and who has private conversations with the U.S. President (who’s a woman, by the way).

I thought at first that this storytelling approach would grow old fast, but I was wrong. Ironically, it seemed to make the scenes even more intimate. In fact, Neuvel weaves an artful connection between the characters that grows, adapts and evolves over the course of the book as Rose and Kara and the others spend endless hours working together to resolve the mystery of the artifacts. Breakthroughs and tragic accidents serve to bring them even closer, as well as heighten tension both for the characters and for the readers. By the end, I didn’t want to turn the last page.

It’s worth mentioning that Neuvel tried and failed to find a publisher for this excellent novel so many times that he eventually self-published. Response was so overwhelming, the publishers began to approach him, and before the book was even released, he’d already sold the movie rights. Not sure when it’s due out, but you can bet I’ll go see it.

Neuvel’s tale is so riveting, I started this book on a Tuesday morning and finished it the very next afternoon despite working a day job and numerous other interruptions. Sleeping Giants is thrilling sci-fi fantasy at its best. I can’t recommend it enough.