In a future which seems to become bleaker with every single revelation, Sylvain Neuvel’s third installment of the Themis Files seek to dig deeper into humanity.
This review naturally contains spoilers regarding the first books in the series. For the third time, we are introduced to the world of the Themis Files. With each book, we are treated with something different, very much the result of what man has uncovered in the previous work. After close to ten years in absentia scientist Rose Franklin, Themis operator Vincent Cotoure and his daughter Eva return to an Earth very different than the one they left. With them, they have an alien, a representative of the very race that taught early man how to use technology and also influenced man’s DNA.
After having disabled one of the murderous alien robots before disappearing in Themis Rose is shocked to find that the United States have repaired it and are wreaking havoc on the free world. Initially, there is little she can do as they reappear in Russia and are held for questioning. The Russians, very interested in their various skills, detain them until the quartet is split. Rose heads back to the USA, Eva escapes through Scandinavia, the alien perishes from human disease and Vincent remains, hell bent on not letting the Americans make themselves masters of the world.
Like the previous books, Only Human is told through various recordings and journals, this time without the anonymous ‘friend’ who controlled events in the first book. It’s a shame since he was an interesting story vehicle and gave a boost to the clandestine nature of it all. The journal was something used very sparingly in the first books and adds a dimension to the characters, as readers we actually get to understand how they feel, not just what they tell others. Unfortunately, it makes the story lag a bit. The chapters which consist of dialogue move much quicker and are more enticing, people mostly whine when they jot down their thoughts and these figures are no exception.
This story is very much about what might happen when powerful technology ends up in the wrong hands. It is the common denominator throughout the series, but more evident here. The social aspect has evolved from the beginning to now and that is an interesting detail. Initially, it was about what happens if man discovered technology they did not understand, secondly it discussed how man would deal with a threat from a far superior enemy, as well as the segregation between people due to their DNA. Neuvel expertly moves between these issues without getting preachy and not mixing issues either, letting each one get its own time.
There are many interesting things with Only Human, but at times it suffers from being the third part of a story. Many of the things that made the first book unique were getting stale in the second, but the story itself compensated. This time most of it is played out and the added storyline of a new cold war between superpowers just does not cut it.
That being said, Only Human is a must for those who have read the other two books. It brings closure to a story that may well have been a one and done. It is well written, thought-provoking and a different take on old concepts.
C. Marry Hultman