The Deaths of Tao by Wesley Chu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I read this book and its predecessor in preparation for the Campbell Award for this year, but despite that, I'm happy to have come out the other side.
It has a much different feel than the previous novel, and I'm not relying on a couple of years passing or a jaded outlook from our previous newbie to inform me of the tone. The war has gone poorly, and the last half of the novel proves it, with setback after setback driving our many heroes into unthinkable positions of forced valor and desperate measures.
The way it all worked out forces me to judge the novel differently between the three act structure. The first was depressing. I'm not going to sidestep this issue. I didn't like it so much. It took way too much time to build up, and each expected payoff turned into a worthless gesture that left me flat.
That being said, and putting aside the first act, I was extremely pleased to pass that behind me and have glorious action and ramped-up consequences and investments, bringing possible and even likely genocide of our favorite aliens to the table. I got into the middle action like a duck to water and enjoyed all of the twists and turns.
But the real joy to this novel was the third act, when everything turns to hell, and like a proper Empire Strikes Back, only a few heroes are left to tell the tale as they scamper about and nibble at their singed tails. I didn't quite expect to see what I did see, and that's high praise. I'm fully invested in reading the third novel. The payout of this book's end was really good. I have no regrets.
So the trick to reading this one is to forget the mud in the beginning and have faith in the rest of the novel. It eventually became a real page-turner, giving us momentum that all the crap in the beginning would eventually turn out all right.
Mind you, though, that things do not turn out right, in proper middle-book fashion. This isn't the light-hearted sci-fi of the first novel. I'd like to say that the tone is developing into something deeper and darker, but that isn't entirely true. It's turning into the dark stakes that we were originally promised in the first novel.
All I can really do is thank the author for eventually delivering on his promise.
That, and buy all his books, of course.
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