Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) When out-of-shape IT technician Roen woke up and started hearing voices in his head, he naturally assumed he was losing it.
He now has a passenger in his brain – an ancient alien life-form called Tao, whose race crash-landed on Earth before the first fish crawled out of the oceans. Now split into two opposing factions – the peace-loving, but under-represented Prophus, and the savage, powerful Genjix – the aliens have been in a state of civil war for centuries. Both sides are searching for a way off-planet, and the Genjix will sacrifice the entire human race, if that’s what it takes.
Meanwhile, Roen is having to train to be the ultimate secret agent. Like that’s going to end up well…
Thoughts: A race of ethereal aliens has been guiding life on this planet for millions of years, and with humanity now a player in the game, these aliens are taking a more involved approach to things by inhabiting the bodies of people and manipulating them into prime positions to further their own goals. If that sounds sinister, well, it can be. Even the faction of aliens that wants the improvement of humanity alongside its own goals (as opposed to the Genjix, who want their own goals achieved even if it means sacrificing humanity to do so) still end up sitting inside somebody’s headspace and throwing their lives for a loop in order to turn them from nobodies into power-players.
Such is the case with Roen Tan. He didn’t ask to be partnered with Tao. Tao didn’t ask to be partnered with Roen. A lousy set of circumstances threw their lives together and now they have to deal with each other as best they can.
The relationship isn’t parasitic, though. Though Roen didn’t ask to be sucked into a world of espionage and real-life action movies, he does get some gain from Tao’s presence. He finds a reason to leave his much-disliked job. He goes from being overweight and generally unmotivated to someone more than capable of holding their own in a frantic fight. The circumstances may have been less than ideal for both of them, but by the end, Roen is a vastly different person than who he started out as. Though it could be said that Tao brought some very positive changes to Roen’s life, some I even wouldn’t mind in my own life (though not at the cost of joining up with an alien war, thank you very much), I still can’t get over the slight creepiness of the whole thing being largely nonconsensual. It was established pretty early on that once Tao took Roen as a host, the only way to cut that relationship would be for Roen to die. He didn’t have much of a choice in the matter.
It does make for an interesting launch point for a story of extra-terrestrial conspiracy, however. And Chu writes this all with good sarcastic and observational humour, making a cast of very believable characters doing very believable things in a messed-up situation. Roen was an excellent character to follow, in no small part because I could relate very well to him. I think just about anyone who’s felt stuck in a rut and yet little motivation to find a way out will be able to do the same. Combined with intense action scenes and very real reactions to them (Roen panics when first put into combat situations because surprise, he’s never been in one before and suddenly people are shooting at him), you get a fantastic story that’s easy to fall into and one that hints at much more exciting adventure to come!
People tell me that the sequel, The Deaths of Tao, has a greater focus on the Prophus/Genjix war, and I’m very much interested in seeing further into that. Chu sets up just enough to get readers interested without giving too much away, providing good backstory in the way of Tao explaining some of the history to Roen, but there are a lot of questions that go unanswered and I’m curious to see how it all plays out. Action scenes are all well and good, and they’re part of what makes The Lives of Tao so much fun, but I like a fair bit of meat to my stories, and it’s good to hear that future books in the series provide just that.
If you’re looking for some sci-fi that’s got good action and fantastic dialogue but still comes off as a light fun read, then definitely check out The Lives of Tao.
(Received for review from the publisher via NetGalley.)