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Most readers of¬†The Lives of Tao will remember the bulk of the book being devoted to the introduction of the civil war between Prophus and Genjix factions of the Quasing alien race, as well as the painful training of hapless overweight Roen Tan. Surrounded by hot women while getting his can kicked all over the place, Roen was not a cool guy at first.
Fast forward to The Deaths of Tao and Roen Tan has arrived. He is a family man, a devoted host to Tao, his Quasing and the cause to save humanity from the Genjix. Roen isn’t Batman by any means, he has become a jack of all trades in the best way possible. There are no fancy gadgets, his face still meets the floor fairly often and angry rhinos have a better temperament, but Roen is clearly a dependable leader. The man has become every bit the hero this increasingly dark universe deserves.
Roen and Tao’s relationship is much more solid, with trust and camaraderie suffusing their every conversation. They continually try to mentally one-up each other, planning the better escape layouts and combat scenarios, as if it were a walk in the park. Roen loses these mental competitions more than he wins but he has become very adept at combat and the gap is closer than expected. Their humor feeds off of one another and it is comedy magic. The whole relationship is based on delightful tongue-in-cheek humor.
Author Wesley Chu has continued to hone his craft in this sophomore release that is sure to please fans and newcomers alike. The writing feels more fleshed and the hand of experience guides the plot to create a greater sense of urgency. Stakes are higher this time around as well and what has been a short while for readers, has been a few years for Roen Tan and the other characters in this wonderfully vibrant universe. Organic is the term that best qualifies the book as everything feels more natural to readers.
Jill, a returning character to the civil war between Prophus and Genjix, has her own Quasing to contend with as events from the first book haunt still Roen, Jill, Tao and Baji. A principal character in both Lives of Tao and Deaths of Tao, Jill’s works with her Quasing Baji, in her role as a political power, gives her real leverage to counteract the Genjix movement on Capitol Hill. This power is tempered by the reality that she is hunted at every corner, risking her life as well as their families.
One of the shifts readers will experience is a greater acceptance of the Genjix perspective. The stories that are told as memories by select Quasing further show the history of mankind, guided by the hand of their alien guests. Make no mistake, the Genjix believe that conflict is the only way for man to evolve but for the first time, readers will see why the Genjix believe the Prophus to be traitors to their kind. This only adds to the depth of the Quasings’ history, rather than taking away from the plot’s sense of immediacy and conflict.
The new principal antagonist, readers met Enzo at the end of Lives of Tao. Enzo has been groomed all his life to receive a Quasing from the Genjix council. In a place called The Hatchery, he has honed his combat and leadership skills to a laser sharpness but has his own flaws to overcome. Pride comes before the fall and in this case and Enzo’s may get him killed. Readers will love every time he fails but be prepared to scream injustice at this guy when he defies his Quasing and moves radical moves. The Genjix council are rarely so forgiving and Enzo may end up punching his own ticket.
The few sore points of the book come from certain plot points that are too easily folded into the story and forgotten. Money makes the world go round but sometimes money isn’t available to Roen and his team, so he should make do with what he has. Instead, there is at least one instance where things could have been difficult and scenes could have been more drawn out but instead felt short lived. Escapes from enemy territory are meant to be harrowing, not routinely achieved due to financial support.
Another point of contention is the revelation of a powerful villain at the very end of Lives of Tao, who then fails to become relevant in the second volume in favor of Enzo and his Quasing. This consequently changes the battle tactics for Roen and Jill against a more radical enemy, but the loss is still felt.
Still, the overall tone of the book has taken a great leap forward with less complaining from the main character and more action. Roen is experienced now, he has made a name for himself as a maverick of Prophus command. Give the man a team to lead and he will do it with the dedication of a military veteran. He is still human and makes mistakes, but they’re forgivable and not a curse on his abilities. He is Tao’s partner in every sense of the word.
The last quarter of the book ramps up that sense of immediacy to a fever pitch, laying out all the cards and making everyone move that much faster. The Genjix have a master plan and damn those who get in their way, even fellow Genjix. The Prophus are cornered and need to escape, their plan even more revolutionary, bordering on suicidal. In a battle of this scale, there are only losers and bigger losers.
Rated: 4.5/5 – For fast paced, extraterrestrial action and adventure sure to endure the test of time and the science fiction genre. Excellently written with a great sense of urgency and characters that are organic in their evolution, The Deaths of Tao is a Fall must-have sequel.
Image credit: Wesley Chu