The Deaths of Tao is the second book in Wesley Chu’s TAO series. In the first book, The Lives of Tao, we met Roen Tan, an overweight lazy guy who, because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, was possessed by an alien named Tao. There are two factions of aliens on Earth — the Prophus and the Genjix. They crash-landed on our planet thousands of years ago and they’re trying to get back to their own planet. They exist only as spirits and must inhabit human bodies if they want to get anything done.
Both the Prophus and the Genjix have been guiding humanity’s technological and cultural development for millennia — all with the goal of eventually developing spacecraft to take them back to their planet — but the two factions have different methodologies. Tao is one of the Prophus, the nice aliens who care about what happens to their human hosts and are trying to build up a benevolent human civilization. The Genjix, in contrast, have a Machiavellian approach — they just want to get off Earth as fast as possible and are willing to do whatever it takes to make that happen. They’re responsible for war, dirty politics, global warming, and other evils.
The Deaths of Tao begins a few years after the events of The Lives of Tao. Roen has been traveling all over the world, basically as a spy, trying to figure out what dastardly deeds the Genjix are up to. Something big is about to happen and he hopes to discover what it is so the Prophus can stop it. All of the spying has taken a toll on his marriage. He and Jill, who was inhabited by a Prophus alien at the end of The Lives of Tao, have separated and their son Cameron lives with Jill’s parents because Jill works in Washington D.C. as a congressional aide, trying to block any plans the Genjix try to get through the U.S. congress. Roen laments his broken marriage and orphaned son, but if the Genjix aren’t stopped, the entire human race is in danger. When Roen discovers what the Genjix are doing, he leads a team to try to foil their plans while Jill tries to obstruct their efforts by working the political side.
The plot advances significantly and there are rooftop chases, gun fights, grenades, hand to hand combat, torture, and plenty of other exciting action in The Deaths of Tao. It would make a fun movie. There were more than a few times when I thought characters did really dumb things, or when I thought some event was implausible or inconsistent, or when characters were wisecracking when screaming seemed more appropriate. It’s clear that Wesley Chu’s goal is to entertain us in superhero fashion. He’s not worried about being completely realistic, so there’s a little bit of plot sloppiness that you’ll need to be willing to overlook. Such as when a bullet grazes Jill’s thigh and she ties it off with a handkerchief and goes for margaritas. Or when Roen, an IT technician and computer geek, hides the earth-crushing information stored on his computer with a silly low-security password.
More problematic for me was that this story was told from multiple perspectives — including Jill and the aliens on both sides — and all those other voices are not done as well as Roen’s is. Roen’s transition from a slob to a successful secret agent in The Lives of Tao was humorous and fun. Jill’s meetings with U.S. senators and phone calls to her worried parents are not. Jill does some training with a handsome male agent in this book, but we’ve seen all that before and she’s just not as appealing as Roen is. Also, because this story starts after Roen and Jill have had a son and are broken up, I felt like I missed a lot of potentially interesting material, some of which probably would have made me understand and care more about Jill and Cameron.
Readers who are most interested in the war between the alien sects will probably be pleased with The Deaths of Tao — that part of the plot moves rapidly and there are significant occurrences and a major cliffhanger at the end. Readers who loved The Lives of Tao mainly for its humor, tone, premise, the fun of watching Roen develop, and the gradual understanding of the alien presence on Earth, may be slightly disappointed in The Deaths of Tao. Chu continues to give us plenty of examples of how the aliens have influenced human history, but now that the premise is no longer novel, these details are just not as cool as they were in the first book.
I continue to listen to Audible Studio’s version of the TAO series which is nicely narrated by Mikael Naramore.