Wesley Chu won the Campbell Award at the second attempt for one of his Tao novels; in 2014 he was a finalist for his debut novel The Lives of Tao and in 2015 he won for the follow-up The Deaths of Tao. This sequel is set five years after the close of the first novel, by which time the millennia-old alien Tao has honed his human host Roen Tan into an expert spy. Roen's wife Jill is also a host for one of the Prophus Quasings in their centuries-old civil war with the more numerous Genjix Quasings. As the novel opens Roen and Jill are separated with Roen operating outside Prophus control and Jill working for the Prophus cause in Washington DC. Roen has been going around the world on spying missions at Tao's urging and his parts of the novel move to Asia and particularly Taiwan (the author's birthplace). Meanwhile a separate stream is based around Jill's political activities in Washington DC.
I was critical of the ending of the first novel for its sudden shift from training the bungling Roen as a spy to him being the action hero, but this sequel shows how that was setting up his continuing story as a very accomplished spy. There is also a difference in pace in The Deaths of Tao between the early chapters and the later ones, although the switch to action happens much sooner in this novel. In the early chapters Chu tries to too hard to capitalise on good reviews for the first book about his humorous style as the tone is almost as flippant as his Twitter feed. He also overplays the Quasing influence on human history with their hosts including not only the political and military leaders mentioned in the first novel, but also Charles Darwin, Galileo, and Gene Roddenberry. That Star Trek reference is just one of far too many pop culture references that pepper the early chapters of The Deaths of Tao.
It is only when the action in Asia begins that the novel settles down and becomes a very good read. Unfortunately, many readers will have already given up by that point, so the early flippant chapters are a distraction. The action part of the novel starts about a third of the way in and is a good action-based narrative with the humour thankfully toned down. Meanwhile Jill's story in Washington DC focuses on the political manoeuvring of the two Quasing factions, so the novel is not purely action based. The genre is hard to pin down other that of a spy thriller where some of the spies are superheroes due to being hosts for aliens (not a very large genre). It is a good premise and is well carried out after the initial flippant chapters. It is a good read and deserving of its Campbell Award.
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