Del Rey, 2017, 336 pages
As a child Rose Franklin made an astonishing discovery: a giant metallic hand buried deep within the earth. As an adult she's dedicated her brilliant scientific career to solving the mystery that began that fateful day: Why was a titanic robot of unknown origin buried in pieces around the world? Years of investigation have produced intriguing answers - and even more perplexing questions. But the truth is closer now than ever before when a second robot, more massive than the first, materializes and lashes out with deadly force.
Now humankind faces a nightmare invasion scenario made real, as more colossal machines touch down across the globe. But Rose and her team at the Earth Defense Corps refuse to surrender. They can turn the tide if they can unlock the last secrets of an advanced alien technology. The greatest weapon humanity wields is knowledge in a do-or-die battle to inherit the Earth...and maybe even the stars.
Waking Gods, like the preceding book, Sleeping Giants, is told in "captured footage" narrative style, though the circumstances in which some of these conversations are allegedly recorded, for later retrieval, make the device sound rather contrived at times.
In book one, humans discovered and pieced together a giant alien robot that had been left here, in pieces scattered across the planet, thousands of years ago. They also discovered clues as to why: it's meant to help humans defend themselves. What would we need a giant super-advanced robot to defend ourselves from? Yeah, that question shakes up a few governments.
In Waking Gods, the robot-builders arrive. And they're not friendly. 13 even bigger robots appear around the globe, standing in capital cities. At first they are motionless, and impervious. Eventually, humans just can't resist poking at them, with an army. The result is a titanic battle between Earth's robot, Themis, manned by the only two people in the world who know how to pilot it, and the robot threatening London.
Themis wins, and all the other robots start releasing a toxic gas that kills 99.9% of the population within 20 miles. Oops.
Waking Gods, unlike the previous book, has an immediate threat and a ramping sense of tension as the alien robots seem bent on exterminating mankind, for reasons no one can determine. They refuse all attempts at communication. There are scientists and government agents chasing clues, while the pilots of a now-disabled Themis are chasing their own MacGuffins. Eventually we get the big reveals that tell us some of the whats and whys and hows, and then there is the inevitable second robot battle in New York's Central Park.
The entire book has a real War of the Worlds vibe to it. H.G. Wells's Martians were a metaphor for British imperialism. Sylvain Neuvel's unknown aliens who send invincible giant robots to terrorize Earth are a metaphor for... I am not sure exactly, but there are hints of colonialism, racial segregation, utilitarian ethics, and a twist on the old Star Trek "Prime Directive." I'm not saying it's a deep book, but there are some interesting ideas raised as some of the characters learn more about the aliens.
This is still a cheesy SF story told in WWZ docu-drama style, but if giant robots don't make you roll your eyes, it's quick and action-packed. However (boo) it ends with an egregious cliffhanger for the next book.
Also by Sylvain Neuvel: My review of Sleeping Giants.
My complete list of book reviews.