The discussion of these books will remain mostly spoiler-free. The brevity of the spoilers are the overarching plot details, you may want to finish reading this review after the first installment, as the plot details from the second and third novel will reveal more from the first.
Sylvain Neuvel released his debut novel and the first book of Themis Files, Sleeping Giants, in November 2016. The buzz around the release of the book was well received and gathered a lot of interest and Sony bought the rights to adapt the books into a movie. Written in an interview style, file-based view of the story, Neuvel easily captures the interest and questioning mind of the reader with his main character Doctor Rose Franklin who as a child is seen falling into a hole and landing atop a giant metal hand with glowing symbols. No one can say how this massive twenty-foot metal hand got underground, and with growing curiosity, Neuvel is about to take us on a wonderful ride through his fantastic mind. Science Fiction meets political thriller meets gigantic robotic apocalypse in this taut, often funny, and in its last installment, a more philosophical endeavor of a trilogy.
From the start we’re in for a ride with Sleeping Giants, jumping forward in time seventeen years, Rose Franklin is now a physicist who is studying the very hand she fell on all those years ago. Nothing about the hand quite makes sense, it shouldn’t be able to exist as it does on Earth, and by any current or known technological means. The hand weighs one-tenth what it should, and the metallurgy doesn’t add up what so ever. How this hand exists is a mystery that no one seems capable of figuring out.
Meanwhile, US Army Helicopter pilot Kara Resnik is running covert operations inside of Syria when she runs into a problem. Her helicopter has stopped responding and has a crash landing. The cause being another piece of this mysterious metal robot appearing under the sands of Syria.
French Canadian linguist Vincent Couture has been brought on board by Rose to see if he can make any headway in deciphering the mysterious symbols on the hand, and in doing so he and the rest of Rose’s team have kicked off a tense race to find any more pieces of this metal that have been buried under the earth. At the center of this geopolitical sprint, our characters find themselves time and time again with the mysterious, anonymous man who seems to represent neither the private sector or government. His manipulative, cold actions and language are really what drives the story forward, and the mystery that it holds keeps begging to be answered. Is this machinery from us, people, long ago? Or from alien technology? How will the answer affect the human population?
As the characters find and piece the objects together it reveals a massive robot in the shape of a woman. Dubbed Themis, Doctor Rose Franklin and her team are racing to figure out how this machine works, and what its purpose is intended for. Scientists theorize that it was left on Earth for its defenses, others aren’t so sure.
It’s these interview-based chapters that really drive the character development in Nuevel’s books. The conversations between the characters are kept in a record and file system. We don’t know anything about the man who’s keeping these files or why he’s keeping them, but they’re pocketed with news articles and journal entries as well. It’s a fun and exciting way for world building and character development alike and really kept the pages turning. The novel is filled with plot twists I couldn’t predict, and a tense cliffhanger ending that had me grinding my teeth with anticipation for the next installment of the series. A masterful and unique dive into the Science Fiction world by the newcomer Neuvel. His next books were eagerly anticipated.
Released in April of 2017 the second installment of the Themis Files follows Nuevel's similar approach with interview, journal entry, and news article sequencing of chapters. This time around his thrilling prose is turned up to 11 and both hands are firmly around your heart, squeezing and squeezing until you are filled with delirium and adrenaline fatigue.
It’s nearly been a decade since the events of Sleeping Giants, and the EDC (Earth Defense Corps) has been created for the continued study and Governmental safety of the Themis. Piloted by the tough and brash Kara Resnik and her boyfriend Vincent Couture, the latter of whom sacrificed the entire lower half of his anatomy to be reconfigured to work the backward knee joints of the Themis. Still, the only two people that have been able to get the massive robot to turn on. The EDC has had a relatively quiet decade, which soon is about to change.
Doctor Rose Franklin is back, after being vaporized by the Themis when Vincent was trying to figure out how the robot works. The machine that was used to 3D print, or reassembles her molecules, is still a mystery, but she’s lost four years of her memories and is four years younger than when she was killed. Her mindset isn’t as cheery as it once was, often pondering if she ever should have tried to piece together the Themis in the first place.
The mysterious man behind the interviews is back as well, and we get the first glimpses of his story and who he really is and works for. The somewhat of a villain, more of a off centered moral code geneticist Alyssa Papatoniou has returned as well. In Sleeping Giants she forcefully stole genetic material from both Kara and Vincent in hopes to create more pilots for the Themis. Nine-year-old Eva Reyes is in Puerto Rico, the unbeknown daughter of Kara and Vincent created by Alyssa. Eva is having visions of death and destruction, bodies dead on busy streets, not only of those around her but of those in faraway places and massive robots invading the planet.
It’s early one morning in the mists of London when a massive robot appears out of thin air in a downtown park. Slightly taller and broader than Themis, and with a male-shaped physique, the new robot glows a different color than the Themis and is dubbed Kronos. The politicians of England are at odds with one another, some calling for peaceful stances and others calling for aggressive tactics. Kronos stands unmoving for several days before military units in England begin taking formation around the massive robot, which provokes an attack the planet has never seen the likes of. Half of the city is instantly wiped off the map from an energy weapon that leaves nothing behind but dirt, taking the lives of more than 100,000 people.
Kara and Vincent are able to show up, and the alien giant Kronos takes shots at the Themis immediately. Though bigger, and stronger than the Earth robot, Kara and Vincent find a way to bring the foe down and use the energy weapons they have aboard to sever Kronos in half, killing the alien pilots in the process. Though the celebration of the planet is very short-lived, as twelve more massive robots appear in the most populated cities on the planet, and release a gas that has the capability to kill more than 95% of the population.
Why are the aliens attacking Earth? If they want to wipe out our species, why does a small percent survive the gas attacks they release? A lot happens in this action-packed book that begs to be read cover to cover in one sitting. A lot of questions remain after the fact, too.
A wonderful and terrifying read of an alien invasion, Neuvel writes with excitement and puts a feeling of giddy wonder in your guts rendering you robotic like, sprinting to the bookstore to get the next installment, Only Human.
The last installment of the Science Fiction series The Themis Files has a more philosophical and geopolitical atmosphere than it’s two predecessors. In the aftermath of an alien invasion, which saw the death toll rise to over one hundred million, humankind has become terrified and cornered with the reality that they are not carrying the biggest sticks in the universe.
After successfully finding a way to get the Alien invaders to leave Earth, Doctor Rose Franklin, Vincent Couture, Eva Reyes, and General of the EDC Eugene Govender were celebrating aboard the Themis when the massive robot was transported back to its homeworld.
Nearly another decade has passed while Rose, Vincent, and Eva have been living on the alien planet Esat Ekt, the three have been living relatively at ease on the homeworld of the Ekt in a community of humanoids. Eva has grown up on this planet, now 19 years old with a close group of friends and a job. Still new to the father role and trying to figure it out being a single parent as best he can, Vincent does not want to make friends, and is mainly focused on getting his daughter home to Earth. Rose is intent on studying and learning as much as possible on the alien planet, the dream of any scientist.
When the trio does arrive back on Earth, they find that the planet has significantly changed in the years they have been gone. A scared population has been rounding up anyone with too much Alien DNA - creating camps for these people to be locked up and forgotten in. Swaths of the human population deemed too much a risk and penned up, Muslims make up a majority count, along with countless others who have also done nothing wrong and are punished by the luck of their genetic material and senseless racism. Others who resist being penned up are simply killed, and the idea of genociding more of the human race is a front-runner on the table of insanity that Rose, Vincent, and Eva have returned to.
The United States has figured out a way to fix and get the robot that was destroyed by Kara and Vincent working for new pilots and has been conquering lands around the globe since, giving ‘freedom’ to those who never asked for it. Meanwhile, Vincent, Eva, Rose, and the Themis landed in Russia when returning, and are captured by Russian Intelligence. The character development of the newcomers in this third installment is the weakest, with unrealistic dialogue and strange developments. The worldbuilding of Esat Ekt is slow, and deliberate, albeit could have been handled with more imagery and care. Though neither the character development or the worldbuilding is the centerpiece in Nuevel’s closing book of this arc.
The social commentary and philosophical, geopolitical outlook shine in Only Human and for the first time in this gunshot race of action and suspense there’s a compelling sense of being told to slow down and think. A cautionary tale to the human race, with a firm handed reminder of what makes the world go around, and what truly matters is that we’re all only human.
A meaningful and passionate close to the series, and some of the best science fiction we’ve had in years. Nuevel is a star that you’ll be compelled to follow, and I’ll eagerly be watching the sky for more.