Sleeping Giants (Themis Files #1) by Sylvain Neuvel

If you fall in love with someone, there’s a good chance the person won’t love you back. Hatred, though, is usually mutual. If you despise someone, it’s pretty much a given they’re also not your biggest fan.

Well, I fell in love with this book. It started off slow but then it grabbed me in a whirlpool and I could not escape. It’s got everything a true sci-fi fan will love! Massive mecha robots, buried secrets from an ancient and possible alien civilisation, science and military battles between countries. It’s an unusal book in the sense that it’s been written as a series of reports and interviews numbered ascending but with missing pieces. The most important pieces at least.

It all starts with an US Government project that uncovers a piece of a foot buried deep underground which reacts to iridium – a very rare heavy metal. Using this, they identify a hand with long slender fingers, legs, arms, a torso and eventually a head. All the pieces form a huge (gigantic actually) figure of a female warrior armed with a shield and sword. They call her Themis.

Themis was one of the Titans, daughter of Uranus and Gaea. She was the human-like representation of the natural and moral order. The name derives from the Greek word meaning that which is current and contemporary. According to Hesiod, she was the second wife of Zeus, a marriage that helped the supreme Olympian to stabilise his power over all gods and humans. also represents the law and undisputed order, the divine right. She was the goddess that created the divine laws that govern everything and are even above gods themselves. In general, Themis had three subsistences; goddess of natural order, which manifested through the Hores (the Hours), meaning the seasonal and never-ceasing rotation of time; goddess of moral order, manifested through Eunomia (fair order), Deke (trial) and Erene (peace), which were the utmost characteristics of the society, and through the Moires, which represented the destiny of every human being; and finally, goddess of prophecy, shown through the Nymphs, as well as the virgin Astraea.



“There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bore children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.”

As they try to find where it came from and how it was built, it becomes obvious that they used a technology far more advanced than the one on Earth and that there might be 12 robots in total. The robots might have brought on Earth peace, not by agreement between countries but by fear of retribution.

The book is intelligently written, bringing in folklore legends, lore and science in a perfect mix. Add in some pretty strong main characters and you have yourself a 5-star story.

Stories are there to entertain, preserve history, or serve a societal purpose of some kind

There is one central figure that all characters talk or report to and in the end – he nearly gets fired when the process becomes too bureaucratic – especially after changing the project leader.

People often confuse leadership with managerial skills.”

There are mis-steps as they accidentally kill people while un-graving the pieces of the robot, science advancements and the realisation that the robot can be moved and it can bond with specific people who become its pilots. The only thing that makes it special is that the knees are not human. They bend in the opposite direction, much like grasshopper knees so when a linguist gets his legs broken in an jealous attack, he retrains his muscles to work with robot legs and the kneecaps reversed.


“Walking is a lot more complicated than people think. We do it unconsciously, but it’s a lot more difficult if you have to think it through. Make a comment to someone about the way they walk and see how awkward they become.”

As the projects becomes financed from private sources and has only three governments involved (with no US involvement), the board of directors is anxious to see the robot in action so they deploy the pilots and the robots to the border of North Korea to prevent a war with South Korea. The new female leader makes a serious decision against the wishes of the crew and their original supervisor and they step into North Korea and make a show of force, bringing them into trouble with the US and Russia.

“North Korean troops gathering… inside North Korea.
That is unheard of.”

“They were massing very close to the border.”

“North Korea is the size of Ohio. It would be geographically challenging for them to gather very far from the border.”

The pilots disappear shortly after and their gatherer (nameless still) refuses to help and when hearing he had been dismissed from service, provides one of the best speeches I’ve heard in a book explaining how such a show of power will be misconstrued and how it doomed the project by attracting the eye of the US government and making them interested in acquiring the robot that they paid for initially. They see it as the weapon that it could be.

“It does not matter. You train your soldiers to kill using video games. They blow enough people up on their computer and it becomes easier for them to kill with a real weapon. Why do you think your government funds so many war and terrorism movies? Hollywood does your dirty work for you. Had 9/11 happened twenty years earlier, the country would have been in chaos, but people have seen enough bad things on their television screen to prepare them for just about anything. We do not really need to talk about government conspiracies.”

The mistake with North Korea is very hard to fix as they have angered a small megalomaniac.

“I have always been thoroughly bewildered by North Korea. They cannot be threatened, as they feel themselves superior to the one making the threat. They cannot be reasoned with, and most importantly, they are 100 percent convinced of their righteousness, so they cannot be bought. Megalomaniacs with delusions of grandeur are notoriously difficult to handle, but how generations of them can follow one another is beyond me.”


The book gave me a sense of awe and wonder at the possibility of such a giant actually existing. It made me believe. Imagine the discovery of giant metal body parts deep underground; giant body parts that predate the human technology necessary to create them. The implication being – if humans couldn’t possibly have made this giant, who did?

Am I ready to accept all that may come out of this if it works? It might give us a cure for everything. It might also have the power to kill millions. Do I want that on my conscience? I wish I knew where this journey will take us, but I don’t. All I know is that this is bigger than me, my self-doubt, or any crisis of conscience.

More than the question of human cost vs. technological value, some of the characters also recognize the profound change this artifact may bring to humans and our view of ourselves and the universe.  What were these giant body parts created for? Are they a message or a weapon? What does this mean for religions? Is someone out there waiting for us?

As we realize that humanity is not alone, that there are other intelligences out there, the differences between our races, nations, religions and political views become less important, and boundaries are erased.


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