The Themis Files by Sylvain Neuvel – Series Review

Rating: 4.75/5

Genre: Sci-fi, thriller, apocalyptic

Author: Sylvain Neuvel

Synopsis: 17 years ago, a young girl named Rose fell through the ground in the Black Hills and found herself in an underground chamber filled with gleaming symbols, lying in the palm of a giant metal hand. Now a physicist, Rose leads a research team struggling to determine the hand’s origins. When another giant limb is discovered, she quickly devises a method for unearthing the hidden pieces, convinced there is an entire body out there waiting to be found.

Halfway around the globe, Kara watches helplessly as her helicopter shuts down over a pistachio field in Turkey. That’ll leave a mark, but she’s about to crash her way into what might be the greatest endeavour in human history.

This is one of the best sci-fi series I’ve read in a while. Or possibly ever. The first book is the weakest, in my opinion, I only rated it 4.5/5 stars and I can’t decide if I prefer the second or third books more. Probably the second one, but by a small margin. I can’t really go into the details as to why without spoilers.

This series takes the “file dossier” format that Illuminae made popular and rocks it. Don’t get me wrong though, format aside, this is nothing like The Illuminae Files (and I have to say, the Illuminae format is still cooler). The Themis Files is a space opera… which doesn’t really take place in space. I know that sounds like it’s not a space opera, but it is. It has the feel and epicness of a space opera, minus the space… per se. But we do have giant alien robots, so… yeah, it’s a space opera. And it’s also a thriller. The first 50-60 pages of each book are kind of like… ????, if you know what I mean. You just get thrown in and especially with the sequels, you’re like “Wait, did I miss something?”. But as soon as you get past those first pages, you get enough information that you’re not totally confused and it’s just sucks you in. I’d say those first pages are the weakest point of these novels. I for one don’t mind being confused, but it can be daunting and people might give up before things start making sense again. So, I’d say try to stick with them past the 60 page mark. Which considering the format, is not that much.

I really enjoyed the writing and that’s closely linked to me enjoying the characters, because obviously due to the format, we mostly just get dialogue. And it is FUNNY. Laugh-out-loud funny at times. The characters have such distinct voices and different kinds of humour, but they’re all dry and sarcastic and sometimes insane. It’s hard to explain the humour, sometimes it’s just your classic sarcasm but there’s also a lot of deadpan, which is somehow conveyed. I’m not sure how Neuvel manages to convey deadpan through dialogue only, but he does and it’s great.

As I said before, these books are told as a series of interviews or log files and there’s one character, rather mysterious who is conducting the majority of the interviews and he’s probably my favourite character. He’s one of the best deadpanners in this series and is absolutely hilarious, even though everyone constantly points out to him that he has no sense of humour. My second favourite character, and probably the second funniest, is I think at least loosely based on the author himself cause they’re both Canadian linguists.

The story takes place over like… 30 years or so, even more if you count from the time Rose found the hand as a child (not a spoiler, it’s in the synopsis!). Which is not what I’m used to seeing so much. Usually a sequence of events is triggered and it all unravels rather quickly. In a few months or a few years. But I really enjoyed that aspect of the book. What we do see happening in the book is super fast paced and action packed, but I like the idea that stuff that happens has very far reaching consequences and sometimes it takes years before all the implications of one event are understood. I loved that this is a story about humanity and it’s both hopeful and realistic. I feel like that’s probably more or less what would happen if we found a giant alien robot buried. I loved that this isn’t a story about heroes. It’s a story that follows the lives of a few people who were put in extraordinary situations and they did their best to survive and it’s more a story about them than it is about saving the world. I’ve heard this series compared to The Martian, and having recently read The Martian, I can confirm. It’s nothing like The Martian in content. But it is in spirit. It has that same focus of just people trying to survive in a situation that no one has survived before and on which there is no manual. They’re just making it up as they go. So if you like that sort of thing, you’ll probably love this series.

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