Title: A History of What Comes Next
Series: Take Them to the Stars #1
Author: Sylvain Neuvel
Genre: Science Fiction
Sarah and Mia are the ninety-nine, tasked to help human progress along and take them to the stars before it’s too late. That’s the reason why Mia is infiltrating Nazi Germany in order to lure scientist and engineers to leave the country and continue their research in a safer place.
But someone has been after Mia and her family since the beginning of time, trying to hinder their mission and forcing them to move countless times – or be stopped for good.
A closer look
The third scifi book in a row? I hear you ask. Well, yes, but I have to say the three of them felt so different that I didn’t even realise they were all scifi novels until I started writing the reviews (which has taken me way more than it should have. Ooops).
But let’s talk about the story. Sarah and her daughter Mia are the ninety-nine, and at the beginning of the novel they are fleeing nazi occupied Germany and going to America. If that number confuses you as much as it confused me when I first read it, welcome to the club. I will explain.
They are the ninety-ninth generation of the Kibsu, which are some kind of alien species sent to Earth to help the human race reach the stars and (I guess) leave the planet before it’s too late. As told in one of the protagonist’s own words: Take them to the stars, before Evil comes and kills them all.
At least that’s what they think they are doing; they have lost the ancient knowledge of the first generations, and only fragments of what their mission is has survived the ages.
Enter the Tracker, an almost mythological figure who has been chasing the Kibsu since the dawn of the world with the only aim of hindering their mission and possibly kill them. It’s been many generation since they have met them for the last time, but the fear of this hunter still guides the movement of Sarah and her daughter; every time something happens close to where they live, they pack up their belongings and begin a new life in a different country, while at the same time still pursuing their primary mission: to help the humans along in their scientific and technological progress, until they are able to leave the planet.
After a short intro, the story begins with Mia, one of the protagonists, travelling to Nazi Germany in order to save a handful of scientists whose loss might mean a huge set back in scientific progress, particularly in regards to missiles. We then keep following Mia and her mother Sarah while they live in Russia for a few years after the fall of Hitler, and then again when they move back to America, all the while working together with scientists and engineers to push the two powers in a race to reach space and fulfil their mission.
The premise is so interesting, I’m mad that this book fell flat for me.
The Kibsu as a concept are fascinating; a hundred generation of what are basically exact copies of the same individual, all bent on “saving the humans” from some unknown Evil, while being chased by the Tracker. They have a small set of rules they follow as if they were set in stone because they have kept them alive this long; and the best parts of the novel are actually the flashbacks in which we can see how some of these rules came to be.
If the book had consisted only of those snippets of past Kibsu, I would have enjoyed it much more.
One of the reasons why this book didn’t click for me is probably the historical period in which it is set; I can get aboard with stories set anytime up to the beginning of the 1900s, but everything that comes after does not hold any appeal for me. I also could not connect to the characters for the life of me, and I just did not like Mia in general. Sorry.
I found her to be annoying most of the time, rash the rest. Didn’t care about her love story either. She redeemed herself at the end, but by then it was a bit too late for me to change my general impression. Hopefully the next instalment in the series will do her justice.
I liked Sarah a bit more, and the chapters we got from the point of view of the Tracker added a little bit of mystery that intrigued me and helped me to get to the end of the story. Apparently they know more about the Kibsu than the Kibsu themselves!
I think the writing style was the biggest culprit in this case. Most of the book is written in interview-like snippets, with mostly dialogues and little to no description. From time to time we get a chapter from Mia that sounds more like a stream of consciousness, or a journal entry from Sarah’s perspective, but I always felt like I was kept at a distance from the characters, and the action scenes were often confused due to a lack of details. I understand it was a choice of the author, and it did flow well, but at the same time it was a bit confusing and I found myself spacing out from time to time – and then having to go back and reread because I wasn’t paying attention.
I understand now why there was so much controversy about this book. I think I sit somewhere in the middle; I did like the general story (and especially the flashbacks), but I felt disconnected from the characters and all that was happening.
I will read the sequel eventually, if only to find out what the Tracker knows.