Themis Files #3
by Sylvain Neuvel
I can’t believe we’re already at the end of such a thunderous trilogy. The Themis Files swept me off my feet from the first page of book one, and kept me begging for more until the very end. Only Human is a fantastic finale to an already strong series, and while I’m sad to see it end, it was definitely the epic conclusion the Themis Files deserved.
In her childhood, Rose Franklin accidentally discovered a giant metal hand buried beneath the ground outside Deadwood, South Dakota. As an adult, Dr. Rose Franklin led the team that uncovered the rest of the body parts which together form Themis: a powerful robot of mysterious alien origin. She, along with linguist Vincent, pilot Kara, and the unnamed Interviewer, protected the Earth from geopolitical conflict and alien invasion alike. Now, after nearly ten years on another world, Rose returns to find her old alliances forfeit and the planet in shambles. And she must pick up the pieces of the Earth Defense Corps as her own friends turn against each other.
Once again, nine years have passed between this book and the last. While I found this temporal jump unsettling when reading Waking Gods, it was even more shocking when reading Only Human because of just how much had changed: humanity has lost its mind. The robot our motley crew defeated at the end of the last book has been taken over by the US, who have been using to, well, take over the world. Just as Rose and Vincent predicted, with an unbeatable robot in the hands of a single government, the world is falling to its knees. To top it all off, the discovery of alien DNA in the population has led to widespread segregation across the planet, including work camps and executions. Countries are using the genetic code to crack down on their undesirables – a thinly veiled allegory to what could happen to us if we allowed our genetic differences to divide us. Sound familiar?
And while the Earth has been growing more insane, Rose, Vincent, Eva and General Govender have been trying to adapt to life on the Alien world of Esat Ekt. Here the author demonstrates a fantastic job of worldbuilding, as he creates a massive society so different from ours. It reads almost like a thought experiment, seeing what would happen to a society so afraid of stepping on its own toes that it never accomplishes anything. It was also an interesting change having two different time periods running concurrently through the book: life on Esat Ekt alternating with life back on earth, after the team returns.
I absolutely loved the character building. Eva and Vincent’s relationship grew perfectly in this last installment. It was fantastic seeing them try to learn to live as a family, see them butt heads, see them end up on opposing sides. Eva has to be my favorite character here: while I miss Kara, she makes up for her departure with a familiar snark. Seeing Vincent wanting nothing more than to go home, while Eva put down roots, made me relate to Eva even more: third culture kids, children of expats, we recognize each other everywhere.
If I did have some qualms, it would be with how certain parts felt a little rushed. I realize the author was trying to show how slowly things moved on Esat Ekt, but at times it felt too slow: they lived on that planet for almost a decade, but it read like the course of a year. And the ending was a little… I don’t think Deus Ex Machina has ever been such an accurate term. It was a little too perfect, to the point I could easily imagine that Vincent or Rose died and imagined the entire thing. But maybe it’s because I’m not used to happy endings!
Rose’s growth was incredible; Vincent’s mental anguish was palpable; Eva’s determination and will made her a force to be reconned with. Other characters grew a lot over the past 18 years of this series, as well, and I was happy to see them almost redeemed at the end. All in all, a fitting conclusion to a fantastic series. Not to mention it was impossible to put down. I sure hope Neuvel has more planned for us in the future, despite the trilogy ending!