Themis Files #1. Author: Sylvain Neuvel.
A girl named Rose is riding her new bike near her home in Deadwood, South Dakota, when she falls through the earth. She wakes up at the bottom of a square hole, its walls glowing with intricate carvings. But the firemen who come to save her peer down upon something even stranger: a little girl in the palm of a giant metal hand.
Seventeen years later, the mystery of the bizarre artifact remains unsolved—its origins, architects, and purpose unknown. Its carbon dating defies belief; military reports are redacted; theories are floated, then rejected.
But some can never stop searching for answers.
Rose Franklin is now a highly trained physicist leading a top secret team to crack the hand’s code. And along with her colleagues, she is being interviewed by a nameless interrogator whose power and purview are as enigmatic as the provenance of the relic. What’s clear is that Rose and her compatriots are on the edge of unraveling history’s most perplexing discovery—and figuring out what it portends for humanity. But once the pieces of the puzzle are in place, will the result prove to be an instrument of lasting peace or a weapon of mass destruction?
This was something of an adventure for me; straight up science-fiction is not a genre I read a lot, and when I do it’s more typically space-opera. It was more nitty-gritty in some ways than I usually enjoy. This feels like a horribly odd thing for me to be saying! I feel like you’ll be saying But, Bernadette, you mean you like fluff better? Short answer, no. But…
How do I put this? I like stories with flawed characters. Broken, realistic characters that struggle with their faults and don’t always get everything right. And yet, at the risk of sounding like that person going “Of course this is a good thing, but, you know, just a little”, main characters with (what I find to be) serious problems or flaws which they’re not trying to overcome are often not psyches I want to immerse myself in.
All that to say, on the bad side I didn’t get along with several main characters. On to the good side.
The narration was seriously intriguing, and just got more so! When the story first opens, told through dialogues between characters and a nameless, faceless interrogator, it seems like nothing more than an oddball narration trick. But as the story progresses, continuing to use this interrogation style for large portions, the nameless interrogator becomes a character all in his own right. (In fact, the most fascinating character for me!) We know nothing about him except what we can infer from conversation- not the conversation individuals in the storyworld are getting, but inferences from the whole spread compared, in a way that no one but the reader is privy to. This faceless man is the spider, the chess-player, pulling strings everywhere from the President to Russia, and if he’s on anyone’s side but his own he’s not telling. His real personality is the biggest conundrum.
I’d rate the actual plot three point five out of five stars: alien weaponry is always fun to play with, the ‘watchers in the sky’ thing is pretty good for suspense, and the political problems are definitely realistic. None of them feel particularly original – although the geopolitical realism adds a good layer – and the manner of storytelling, through interviews and journal entries, creates a level of emotional disconnect from everything. However, I’m not counting the narrator as part of the plot in that summary, despite his being integral to everything that happens, because he’s so mysterious I can’t even categorize him in my own mind… but I’m hooked, and coming back for the second book.
Sexual Content: See Violence for some violence with possible sexual overtones. / Speaking of her home town, “the last brothels closed when I was a kid.”/ Character says he had brief, drunk sex with another character. Same woman, later, says she has slept with another man./ Character comments on statue’s breasts.
Language: 14 hell, 3 derogatory terms, 3 a**h*le
Violence: Dry, brief description of a copter crash. Characters see the aftermath of a city block being destroyed (by buried tech rising to the surface) wherein eight people were killed. Character is knocked out when she tries on an alien helmet. One character rams a car into a second, crushing his legs. Woman gets into a brief fight with security, breaks a guard’s nose, ends with the woman knocked out. Submarine obliterated in a second. Character uses non-lethal bullets to take down guards. In an accident with alien weaponry an airplane is vaporized and three hundred people killed. (psycho) scientist has a woman strapped down, is planning to take eggs from her ovaries against her will (rescued).