Title: In the Lives of Puppets
Author: TJ Klune
Publisher: Tor Books
Length: 417 Pages
Rating: 4 Stars
At a Glance: While it would be inaccurate to say this is a perfect book—there a points in the journey that ambled when I wanted them to run—I will always be open to the messages TJ Klune conveys through characters who make me laugh and cry all in the same story.
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurb: In a strange little home built into the branches of a grove of trees, live three robots—fatherly inventor android Giovanni Lawson, a pleasantly sadistic nurse machine, and a small vacuum desperate for love and attention. Victor Lawson, a human, lives there too. They’re a family, hidden and safe.
The day Vic salvages and repairs an unfamiliar android labelled “HAP,” he learns of a shared dark past between Hap and Gio–a past spent hunting humans.
When Hap unwittingly alerts robots from Gio’s former life to their whereabouts, the family is no longer hidden and safe. Gio is captured and taken back to his old laboratory in the City of Electric Dreams. So together, the rest of Vic’s assembled family must journey across an unforgiving and otherworldly country to rescue Gio from decommission, or worse, reprogramming.
Along the way to save Gio, amid conflicted feelings of betrayal and affection for Hap, Vic must decide for himself: Can he accept love with strings attached?
Review: TJ Klune’s fans will immediately recognize In the Lives of Puppets as a signature piece in his overall body of work. The voice, the characters, and the themes of this story manifest the messages he’s addressed in past novels, and they do so with snark and quirky banter as well as a Manic Pixie Dream Bot named Rambo—a scene stealer if there ever was one—and a robot, Nurse Ratched, who exceeds her namesake in the psychopathy department but, somehow, still manages to charm and delight at the same time. But there are deeper wells of emotion to be plumbed too. Navigating the questions, and even consequences, of what makes us human—the heart, the soul, a conscience, family, friendships, love, loyalty, all of the above—moved me in unexpected ways.
This story is credited as a reimagining of The Adventures of Pinocchio, but I couldn’t help seeing shades of The Wizard of Oz and perhaps even a passing nod to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy thrown in for good measure. Giovanni Lawson is an inventor with a secret past who is valiantly attempting to make peace with it through his son, Victor, a human living amongst AI in an enchanting bit of forest apart from the outside world. Gio’s secrets will eventually out, though, much to Vic’s shock and heartache. And it’s the android HAP, who Vic found and rescued from the Scrap Yard, and reanimated, that will accompany Vic, Rambo, and Nurse Ratched on a perilous journey into the outside world to recover what was lost to them.
Along the way, readers will watch Vic influence the world, not only because of who he is but because of those who believe in him. He is the central cog in a steadfast machine around which the story and characters revolve. There is also perhaps the greatest unanswerable question posed in the end: is love inherently selfish, or is it the sharpest, most benevolent edge in our arsenal of emotions? Klune confronts sacrifice, death and, more distinctively, what it means to be alive. This story is rife with compassion and kindness and kinship expressed unabashedly.
While it would be inaccurate to say In the Lives of Puppets is a perfect book—there are points in the journey that ambled when I wanted them to run—I will always be open to the messages TJ Klune conveys through characters who make me laugh and cry all in the same story.
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