A History of What Comes Next, by Sylvain Neuvel
Okay, so I read Sylvain Neuvel’s highly touted debut novel, Sleeping Giants, and wasn’t as enthused as I had hoped to be. It was good, yes, but it just didn’t grab me, and I never followed up on the other two books of the series. (Caveat here – we all have different sensibilities; someone else might think these were the best books ever. That’s legit.)
But boy, oh, boy, I’m glad I picked up his newest work, A History of What Comes Next. The first of a planned duology, I found this book to be compelling, provocative, and familiar and yet so very, very different from anything I have read before.
A History of What Comes Next is an alternate history (or is it?) that follows a mother and daughter through the 1940s, WWII, and the advent of rocket science and the space race. They are the Ninety-Nine of the Kibsu – the 99th generation of mothers and daughters, part of a shadowy lineage whose engrained purpose has been passed down through the ages – to take humankind to the stars. Sarah and Mia are working to finally usher in the start of the final phase of this legacy, using their vast intelligence and their unique physiology to move events forward, using their gender to provoke change – and to stay in the shadows.
But they are awash in danger. Not only due to the missions that they undertake, which are delicate and incredibly perilous, but also because they are being hunted by a another generational being known as the Tracker (which chillingly turn out to be cadre of sadistic brothers) whose sole purpose is to eradicate the sisters and erase their purpose from existence.
The book is mainly told in the point of view of either Sarah or her daughter Mia, the dialog between them and other characters not quoted, but indented, giving the narrative an intimate yet ambiguous feel – very appropriate in this incredibly personal and yet slightly out of phase story (out of phase with the history we learned). There are occasional flashbacks to other generations of the Kibsu, some quite ancient, always with a laser focus but with a fuzziness on what it is that instigated that focus. Each of these timelines has a toehold in our documented histories. In fact, history in this book is very deep, with the most outlandish of the events and characters being authentic. The line between fact and fiction in A History of What Comes Next is nebulous, indistinct, and that’s wonderful.
And through it all there is a thread of female empowerment. The action, after all, is totally female driven, with Sarah and Mia using all the tools at their disposal (and creating some that don’t yet exist, sometimes on a huge scale) to move their purpose closer to its goal. Yet as zeroed in as they are, there are questions that linger, questions about if the ends truly justify the means and just what is it that they are working to bring about. Does humanity really deserve the effort? What about the individual, and can a loving mother truly pass down such a burden on her daughter?
It’s a book that never strays from its core, yet dances around that core like a dervish. The first book is very satisfying yet definitely is the first act in a two act play; the second book, Until the Last of Me, is set to release at the end of March. This time, you can bet I’m going to be first in line to see how this story ends.
— Sharon Browning