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Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel

Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel
Book Name: Sleeping Giants
Author: Sylvain Neuvel
Publisher(s): Penguin Books
Formatt: Hardback, Paperback, Ebook
Genre(s): Science-Fiction / Political Thriller
Release Date: 21/04/2016

Sleeping-Giants-FeatureJust like the smash hit Red Rising by Pierce Brown, Sleeping Giants has been turning heads because it has managed to sell movie rights before even being published. Its Publishers and early reviews from all around the world are promising that this is the next World War Z, The Martian, Gravity or Interstellar. That’s a lot of hype, a lot of expectation and a lot to promise. Can Sleeping Giants deliver?

The book begins with an eleven year-old girl sneaking out of her house to cycle the bike she has received as a gift for her birthday. She’s anxious as she passes through the front door because she isn’t meant to ride the bicycle until the next morning. With all the patience you’d expect from such a young child, she decides that the risk of taking it for a spin is worth the inevitable trouble she will get into. As she cycles towards a nearby forest, the sun quickly begins to fall. She’s getting scared now and is about to head home when she spots a turquoise light at the bottom of the hill she is cycling along. The young girl places the bike down and heads towards the light—the ground disappears from below her feet. When our eleven year-old awakens, she finds herself lying in a giant metal hand that measures 22.6ft from the wrist to the tip of the middle finger.

That’s quite the set up, is it not? It sounds like a great writing prompt: “A giant metal hand has just been discovered on Earth, how do the various nations and their Government agencies react?”

The novel moves forward in time, that eleven year-old girl, Rose Franklin, is now a renowned anthropologist and various things have fallen into place in a way that means she’s now in charge of investigating where the hand came from and its potential uses. Her preliminary research reveals that the hand is made of Iridium (more than could have come from Earth), it is engineered beyond current human capabilities, there are abnormalities in its weight (it should be far heavier than it measures) and the strange panels found near the hand are a kind of technology not made by man. She concludes, simply: “we didn’t build this”.

SG-TranscriptSylvain Neuvel chooses to tell this particular story through interview transcripts, personal journals (similar to the famous Captain’s Log from Star Trek), and articles from media-outlets. So, although the book has been compared to numerous Science-Fiction novels, I would say that it felt closer to the absolutely brilliant thriller The Three by Sarah Lotz that used a similar techniques to instil a sense of realism upon the reader. This book equivalent of ‘found footage’ movies seems to be growing and I, for one, welcome it. It’s also worth noting that the author, Sylvain Neuvel, is a highly renowned linguist and this is very apparent as you read the book’s transcripts. Each character being interviewed not only sounds like a genuine person, but is unique in their personality, word choices, rhythm of speech and so on.

We’ve covered premise and form, but, as we know, all good novels need memorable and interesting characters. Sylvain excels here too, mostly. You could argue that the main character in this novel is the mysterious interviewer whose name we never learn and who we never get a decent description of. He is certainly the protagonist. To explain this a little better, the novel opens up with Rose, the anthropologist, being interviewed by this faceless individual about the hand and what she believes about it. He comes across as a Man In Black and, indeed, it is revealed that his authority extends beyond the President of the United States. For much of the novel, this individual seems to have unlimited funding and resources at his disposal. If there is anything he can do to help Rose get to the bottom of where the hand came from and how it could be potentially be used, he is willing to fund it and make it happen. The question though is why?

Suit-UpWhen you’ve got a faceless, nameless character who works for… you’ve no idea: he is always going to be intriguing. However, there is a bit more to his character than that. Although this character is very careful to stay direct with those he is interviewing, little snippets of his aims and his past and personality slip out from time-to-time and it is great fun for the reader catching him out on these. Undoubtedly, too, as the interviewer puts together a team of individuals to take his investigation of the hand to the next stage, he ends up getting more emotionally involved and that character development is masterfully handled.

The remaining cast consists of Kara Resnik, Ryan Mitchell and Vincent Couture who are far more stereotypical character types. Kara is your kickass military women with a serious attitude problem – Black Widow. Ryan Mitchell is a by-the-book recruit of the military – Captain America. Vincent Couture is an arrogant genius who is a pain in the ass, but vital to uncovering the secrets of the hand – Iron Man (Tony Stark). You could, really, call Rose Bruce Banner without The Hulk powers too, if you like. I’ve certainly oversimplified them here, but I’ve not done so in order to condemn the author in anyway. The style of the novel, interview transcripts primarily, means that there is very little room for character description or development that doesn’t appear a blatantly obvious attempt to convey characters to the reader, so I think this was the right decision. There certainly is an element of change in each character though and we do see their hidden depths through the rare private journal entries I described above.

And, finally, how does Neuvel handle the story and worldbuilding? Masterfully! This is a page turner of the highest order. I can’t imagine anyone not finishing this book within a few days, because there are so many questions being asked and so little answers being provided until the very end. In addition to these questions, as the secrets of the hand begin to get uncovered the stakes are raised massively.  The novel quickly goes from a Science-Fiction novel to a Political Thriller. Various nations become interested in the hand and the question of whether the United States are willing to share and how far they are willing to go in order to unlock its secrets ends up having massive implications for the world. I’ve purposely avoided going into details on the revelations about the hand as I feel that even minor spoilers will reduce the book’s impact and the early feeling of mystery.

Robot-HandIn terms of weaknesses? Well, I do feel that the first 2/3 of the novel is better than the final 1/3. You almost get the feeling that a version of this story (with a different ending, of course) could have been told in a single novel, rather than the trilogy it is going to be. What I mean by this is that the ending seems to be setting up future books rather than ending the current one. I can’t say I was too disappointed with this however, because by the end of the novel we know enough about the hand that Sleeping Giants could be the start of a very good Space Opera… should the author wish to go in that direction (which feels quite likely, and is what I’m hoping for!).

As you have undoubtedly picked up on: I’m pretty excited about this one. The ‘found footage’ aspect of the novel really clicked with me and the thought provoking ‘what if’ questions about worlds that could lie beyond our own clashed with the rapid pace in a way that made this quite the experience. It really was a novel I couldn’t get off my mind until I’d turned that final page and a novel that I’ve thought about a lot since. I’m truly excited to see where Sylvain Neuvel goes from here and I will be crossing my fingers that some big movie studio does his work justice.

I do hope you enjoyed the review. Let me leave you with the author, Sylvain Neuvel, discussing two early successes in his writing career: Winning a poetry contest when he was 10, and selling a screenplay when he was 18:




  1. Jeff says:

    Read the book after I read the review here. Really great book and the ‘found footage’ technique makes it more interesting and fresh. Bet you could write common tropes in this form and make it fresh anyway.
    Overall, the book was Great.

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