A few years ago, I received a lovely ARC from a friend of mine. She told me it was a Canadian author, a good book, and one she very much wanted me to have. I made a very smart decision: I ignored it for three years and read Wheel of Time.
Consider this blog/review an attempt to right this wrong.
The Themis Files by Sylvain Neuvel spans three books: Sleeping Giants, Waking Gods, and Only Human. As you may have guessed, Sleeping Giants is the ARC I received. The series follows a group of people as they discover a robot left on Earth by an ancient, advanced, alien race, and all the politics that come with it. It’s told in a unique way, through interview logs, reports, and news articles. It spans years, diving deep into the thrill of discovery, the flaws of science, and human nature. To say the series blew my mind is an understatement. I had barely finished my ARC when I went to my local bookstore to buy the next two novels. Quite simply, I couldn’t wait. And you shouldn’t pass this series up.
I’m not much of a scientist (read: I am bad at science), and a lot of harder sci-fi can go right over my head—I am simply not built to understand it, and often I simply do not care. I often miss the exploration of character in these novels. And, of course, when it comes to softer sci-fi, I find myself wishing for more explanations. I am impossible to please. That’s what made Neuvel’s series so special and perfect for me. There’s hard science, but explained first person from the scientist characters themselves, sometimes to people like me without the background. Never dumbed down, but always explained. And the emotional heart of the story truly lies with the characters—you learn so much about them from personal logs, recordings, and their actions, that I never once felt disconnected from them. I shared their pain, their joy, their excitement and arrogance. Neuvel also mastered the grand politics, with a nuanced and realistic view of what humans are capable at their worst and their best.
Another aspect I admired about Neuvel’s writing in this series is his firm grasp on humour. The unnamed narrator is dry and sarcastic, his quips having me in stitches quite often. As a fellow Canadian, I loved the comment about the accent a character has, both the ‘He’s Quebecois, not French’ and the ‘I just thought they spoke, you know, French.’ There’s Neon Genesis Evangelion references, Star Wars references, and numerous metaphoric stories that always have a humourous, if macabre, ending.
Finally, onto the formatting. Ah, the formatting. Where do I begin? The use of different font weights for different characters, so you always knew who was speaking? The use of different brackets in audio logs, which worked for the same purpose? How easy it was to read, to flow along with the story, how creative the use of these logs and journals and side stories were? I feel a story like this needs to be experienced. It truly reads like a transcript combined with a novel, a format I never knew I’d get from a formal publisher, and one I’m grateful for. It’s a marvellous example of style, and how using a style can push and elevate an already incredible plot. The Themis Files would not be the same without this choice, and I am grateful that Neuvel used it.
I may say this too much with my reviews but: please go read these books. A marvel of formatting, a heart-wrenching examination of humanity, and a very awesome robot. Truly a series with everything you could ever need.
And yes, I am going to read Neuvel’s next novella sooner than three years from now. Promise.
Sending magic your way,