So what kind of author sucks you in with a first book of mostly funny, light dialog and relationships and flips the sequel to be full of sad and difficult loss with some funny relationships thrown in? Next thing you know, the characters will develop and won’t fit our pigeon holes. Who has his the story going in some surprising ways with nice, albeit dull, predictability going out the window? What kind of author avoids the easy return of more of the same to, instead, surprise you with what were hinted-at real world problems blossoming into full blown difficulties? What kind of author escalates the challenges then takes everything in a new direction? That kind of author would be Wesley Chu. Unwilling to simply stay with the tried and true, Mr. Chu shakes it up a bit.
While retaining its comedic bent, Deaths of Tao takes things to a bit more serious edge from its predecessor Lives of Tao (about which more here). (Full disclosure I received an ARC of the book via NetGalley.) Some new characters come on the scene, a deeper understanding of both sides in the age-long struggle between the Genjix and Prophus is brought to light. Many characters return and, despite all of the changes and growth, remain true to themselves. That really is the nice element here: character growth while retaining their essential nature. This is done more rarely than one would hope. It’s relatively easy to stay the same or to radically alter; the challenge is to grow while retaining the feel of the character.
Deaths of Tao continues the battle between aliens called the Quasing initially described in The Lives of Tao. The /Quasing control much of our world, are battling each other for control of the Earth and their fate with the stated purpose to get back to their home planet. The “good guys” want to achieve this with humans help; the bad guys want to use conflict to advance the humans to the point where they’ll evolve more quickly to be more useful to their goal. The good guys are losing.
One aspect of the book which both seems realistic and, simultaneously, seems to stretch incredulity is the Quasing themselves. On the one hand, they’ve been around before humans existed and have guided human development for most of our history inhabiting nearly all of the major players in human history. On the other hand, they can be a jealous bunch of power grabbing gits who hold on to grudges for centuries, not unlike Greek gods. So they’re really good at fighting but the millenia haven’t matured them much. You get the dilemma. I know some people who could live for a few millennium and remain as immature 10 centuries from now as they would 10 years from now. It just seems they would get a little more proficient at human manipulation over time.
Deaths of Tao demonstrates Mr. Chu’s power over his craft while continuing to take it to the next level. He continues to develop his characters and narrative while retaining his humor. I recommend Deaths of Tao to any and all; you needn’t be a sci-fi or fantasy geek to enjoy.