Del Rey Books, 2018, 336 pages
Brilliant scientist Rose Franklin has devoted her adult life to solving the mystery she accidentally stumbled upon as a child: a huge metal hand buried beneath the ground outside Deadwood, South Dakota. The discovery set in motion a cataclysmic chain of events with geopolitical ramifications. Rose and the Earth Defense Corps raced to master the enigmatic technology, as giant robots suddenly descended on Earth’s most populous cities, killing one hundred million people in the process. Though Rose and her team were able to fend off the attack, their victory was short-lived. The mysterious invaders retreated, disappearing from the shattered planet...but they took the scientist and her crew with them.
Now, after nearly 10 years on another world, Rose returns to find a devastating new war - this time between humans. America and Russia are locked in combat, fighting to fill the power vacuum left behind after the invasion. Families are torn apart, friends become bitter enemies, and countries collapse in the wake of the battling superpowers. It appears the aliens left behind their titanic death machines so humankind will obliterate itself. Rose is determined to find a solution, whatever it takes. But will she become a pawn in a doomsday game no one can win?
Spoilers for the first two books in the Themis Files trilogy.
In the first book of this trilogy, Sleeping Giants, humans discovered pieces of a giant alien robot and assembled it into a functional mecha, and discovered it was a really powerful weapon.
In book two, Waking Gods, the aliens arrived. Over a dozen giant robots in cities around the world. Soon they unleashed poison gas that killed hundreds of millions. We eventually learned that the aliens were actually trying to exterminate their own people, who had interbred with humanity thousands of years ago. They regarded this as a crime against humankind, but to their horror, they found that humans with alien DNA now outnumbered "pure" humans, and what had been intended as a modest culling was nearly a genocide.
The only people in the world capable of piloting Themis managed to defeat an alien robot, but then got transported to the alien homeworld, and the book ended on a cliffhanger.
The third book, Only Human, continues the "recovered footage/recorded interviews" style of the first two books. It's a less effective gimmick here, as while it worked for the first book (and to a lesser extent, the second) as the world watched giant robots battle, here we're just eavesdropping on all the characters' conversations.
It's been nine years. We learn that Rose, Vincent, and their adopted daughter Eva, have been living on the alien homeworld, and learned their language. The aliens have a sort of participatory democracy that takes years to decide anything. They are horrified by the crime they committed against Earth, but can't decide what to do about the humans amongst them. Eva grows up on the alien world, makes friends, and learns that they have their own oppressed underclass. She joins the resistance.
This is revealed in flashback segments. In the "present," nine years later, Rose, Vincent, and Eva have managed to return to Earth, where they discover that the world is in shambles after the world's biggest cities were destroyed, millions of people were killed, and most of the human race turned out to be part "alien." People with alien DNA are being put in camps, while the United States, in possession of the only functional teleporting giant alien robot, has turned its Imperialism dial up to 11, and is now bringing Freedom and Democracy ™ to the entire world, or else its giant robot will stomp on your capital. The only countries standing against the USA are Russia and China, with their nuclear arsenals. It's back to the Cold War and MAD. And then Rose and Vincent and Eva arrived back on Earth in Russian-occupied Estonia, and suddenly the Russians have a giant robot too.
The book is a combination of a slow reveal about what happened back on the alien world, and a progression towards the climax we know is coming, where the American giant alien robot faces off against the Russian giant alien robot... with Vincent in one and Eva in the other. Contrived and a little trite, but this is nothing if not an action movie of a series, and if not much deeper than a Michael Bay movie, it's plotted better.
Also by Sylvain Neuvel: My reviews of Sleeping Giants and Waking Gods.
My complete list of book reviews.