This edition: eARC (thanks, publisher people!)
Where I got it: NetGalley
Publisher: Angry Robot
Published: 29th October 2013 (ebook & US/CAN print); 7th November (UK print)
My rating: 5/5
The Prophus and the Gengix are at war. For centuries they have sought a way off-planet, guiding humanity’s social and technological development to the stage where space travel is possible. The end is now in sight, and both factions have plans to leave the Earth, but the Gengix method will mean the destruction of the human race.
That’s a price they’re willing to pay.
It’s up to Roen and Tao to save the world. Oh, dear…
I think it’s fair to say that this book, the second in Chu’s Tao series, had a lot to live up to after his debut, The Lives Of Tao. Well, first of all it’s certainly done that. Secondly, however, I was pleasantly surprised by the ways in which it not only lived up to it, but improved upon it. Friendly warning – there will be at least mild spoilers for the first book/basic plot direction in the second, below…
If The Lives Of Tao was ‘The Terminator’ – action-packed and thoroughly entertaining, if carrying some puppy fat that needed losing (looking at you, Roen), then The Deaths Of Tao is Terminator 2: Judgement Day. Goodbye, puppy fat. Hello, leaner and much meaner killing machine.
When we left Roen and Jill, the two protagonists from the first novel, they were only just venturing into what seemed to be a promising romance, after being thrown together by the Prophus/Genjix war. When we return to them, years have passed, they’ve gotten married and been separated, and they have a son. Roen has walked away from the Prophus organisation to fight his own battles, Jill is mired in the political side of it all, and their son lives with Jill’s parents – who are, it seems, unaware of everything that’s really going on behind the scenes.
So, no happily ever after then. Fair enough. With this kind of a war going on, I don’t imagine white picket fences are much of a defense…
Still, it surprised me a little to see such a significant time gap put between the two books. If I’m being completely honest, at first it threw me a little – but the more it progressed, the more I approved. This is real life, even if there’s an utterly fantastic-sounding alien war going on for control of Earth and its resources. These things can’t just fall by the wayside, after all. Roen and Jill were always going to have problems with that kind of scenario going on around them, and their troubled relationship added an excellent complication. While Roen walks away and tries to do things his (and Tao’s) own way, basically thumbing his nose at the Prophus chain of command and the idea of teamwork after what seems to have been so many missions gone wrong, Jill is well ensconced in that chain, and taking her orders far better than her husband. Roen is listening more to his Prophus companion than his wife, and so of course they’ve had issues.
More than being about the human protagonists, however, this is a story about the relationships between human and Prophus. If Roen is driven to his own course regarding the Genjix, then Tao is doubly so, and it’s this fact that helps to drive such a wedge between Roen and Jill, not to mention Tao and his fellow Prophus. The shades of grey in all of these issues are what make the story so interesting. Decisions and mistakes are made by everyone, but beyond that, everyone’s making their own choices at the same time. It’s all so very dramatic. I love it.
Speaking of the Genjix… that Terminator comparison I made before is apt on so many levels here. None more so, perhaps, than when describing the Genjix threat. We get to see much more of their organisational structure, and in Enzo, the main Genjix antagonist here, we’ve got a truly unnervingly dangerous individual in control of a lot of the Genjix operations. Born and raised in their ‘Hatchery’, Enzo is purebred for nothing short of leading their armies in this war – and he knows it. Where he has frightening levels of capability and training, Enzo has arrogance to match, and of course, before the end this complicates just about everything…
The race to the finale here was even more nail-biting and tightly written than Chu’s previous effort, and I have to tip my hat to him. Winning readers over is one thing, but keeping them coming back for more is quite another, and in my book he’s done it spectacularly well. I suspect not everyone might agree; there’s enough of an about-face with this book that it may possibly throw some readers more than it did me at first, but such things are inevitable no matter who’s writing what. I can only speak for me, and Me will be waiting eagerly for the next book in this series.
…That sounded a bit Cookie Monster, didn’t it. And now I’ve combined the Cookie Monster with a Terminator analogy in a book review. Is that a first?
Anyway! 5 very well deserved stars to this one. Keep it coming, Wesley. I loved it. And now I’m off to find cookies.