Publisher: Del Rey
When Dr. Rose Franklin was a child she fell into a hole and found a large metal hand. This would influence the rest of her life and lead her into a career in the scientific field. This also lead her back to the giant hand she found as a child. Heading a secret government team she is tasked to find the other parts of what might just be a gigantic robot, apparently buried all around the world. Her movement and progress is tracked by a nameless figure who is constantly recording everything said in the matter. The gathering of body parts ends up being more difficult to perform and harder to keep secret than they first imagined and the method they choose devastates several inhabited areas, causing other nations to take notice.
At the same time the team is trying to figure out how to control the giant machine, that appears to be some form of weapon, and also deciphering the language associated with it. As outer forces try to control the project, among others the American government, the team is also plagued by inner turmoil, jealousy as well as betrayal and as the nameless leader tries to keep control of the situation it seems as if it is all heading towards certain doom.
There are many interesting aspects to Sleeping Giants, both in the way the story is told, but also the content. As mentioned the story moves forward through a series of interviews held by a nameless person. It is through this person’s questions as well as the odd military report and diary entry that the reader is let into the minds of the characters. Just like earlier authors like Samuel Richardson (Pamela) and Bram Stoker (Dracula) Neuvel adds a fair amount of credibility to the tale, as well as quick pace to the events as it excludes pondering as well as unnecessary background stories.
Neuvel’s characters are all at first glance sympathetic with a common goal to delve into the mystery of the robotic pieces, but as it all develops it becomes clearer that they are all conniving, egotistical, underhanded, in short; human. As they strive understand what they are dealing with and are being pushed or pulled from various angles they risk losing sight of the true goal.
Sleeping Giants manages to be an original Science-Fiction story and that is quite unusual today. It is both philosophical, historical and political in the same vein as Kornbluth and Pohl’s Space Merchants, exciting and at the same time with a subtle warning about the here and now.
The novel is classified as the first installment of a series called the Themis Files and if this is what the reader will be treated to in the premier book, then we are all in for a treat.
Genre: Neo Noir, mystery, thriller
Broken souls, that is what Richard Thomas quickly is becoming an expert on. It is evident in his short stories, for instance the eerie Asking for Forgiveness or the somber Twenty Reasons to Stay and One to Leave, that both have damaged people at the center. It was also a main theme in his previous release Disintegration, where the main character had witnessed tragedy and because of it had become an easy target for the lowlife of Chicago.
This follow up, another Windy City Dark Mystery, is similar; a journey into the dark recesses of shattered souls while at the same time showing the reader the bleak underbelly of The Second City: Chicago. Although this time Thomas treats the reader to the lives of two individuals instead of one.
First is Ray; a white beast of a man who spends his time as a fighter at an underground club. His pale skin and large frame makes people instantly suspicious of him as he walks the streets. One of his many gifts, as he himself puts it, is his temper, honed by a lifetime of abuse and he wished to pass that abuse on to other people. His scars run deep; a mysterious father, who vanishes after a while, a sexually abused sister and a murderous mother. As the story unfolds he realizes that his childhood, sinister as it was, may have been a lot worse than he imagined.
The second person is Natalie. She lives next door to Ray and sees him come home with fresh bruises and cuts. She is the target of neighborhood boys, has parents who constantly fight and has developed the ability to blend into the woodwork; a useful skill to have in the area in which she lives. Ray takes her under his wing to protect her from bullies and the mysterious white van that drives around the city causing children to disappear. They form a relationship reminiscent of the one between Natalie Portman and Jean Reno in Léon (The Professional), although much sadder. Things take a turn once Ray comes to the conclusion that someone is after him and will do anything in their power to hurt him.
Breaker takes the Windy City Dark Mystery series to another level. The bleak outlook on life and humanity that was ever present in Disintegration is still present, but this time hope is sprinkled between the sentences. Ray is more sympathetic a character from the get go, a sensation that is only enhanced as more and more hints at his horrible past is revealed to him, as well as the reader. He is constantly at a disadvantage due to his size, pale skin and background, but instead of lashing out at a world where he doesn’t belong he channels it through fighting and helping the neighbor girl.
Richard Thomas shows that he is a master of neo noir fiction and that he understands the psyche of broken and damaged people. Breaker is proof of this; it is well written, well thought out, bleak yet hopeful and convincing in its innovative story.
Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance
Publisher: Gallery Books
With earlier works treating Edgar Allen Poe and Rembrandt Cullen is trying to carve out a niche wherein she portrays famous men through the women who knew them best. In her latest work she has set her sight on Mark Twain, a polarizing figure for sure. He is seen through the eyes of her assistant Ms Lyons and the reader is tossed between the present and glimpses of their past together.
A girl from high society having fallen on hard times due to her father’s neglect with money, Lyons is forced to work as a governess while her friends marry wealthy men. She first meets Twain when she joins her employer for a poker game at the author’s home. Next she knows she has been employed by Twain’s sickly wife, a person she has never met and instead is cared for by the daughters. She takes on the role as Twain’s secretary, taking diction for his autobiography among other things and while meeting famous people and going to Italy she grows ever fonder of the writer and it seems the budding feelings appear reciprocated.
Although Cullen is a very competent writer this book never becomes very interesting or engaging. The plot of the book is unclear and most of the time appears to be a slow- moving recap of Lyons life with Twain. The actual intrigue doesn’t appear until much later in the story and this fact makes it difficult to turn the page to see what happens next. The romantic aspect or rather the sexual tension that is supposed to exist between Twain and Lyons is often hinted at, but never felt through the pages.
It is a valiant effort to try to describe an interesting figure from American culture, but in the end it falls flat and becomes less interesting than a biography about him.