I received a digital advance reader’s copy (ARC) of In the Lives of Puppets by TJ Klune. Since this version is just a proof and not the final version, I won’t quote directly and will keep my comments general.
I hope TJ Klune is prepared for just how many roombas are going to be named Rambo after this book comes out. It’s probably going to be a lot.
In the Lives of Puppets tells the story of Victor Lawson, who has been raised by Gio Lawson, an android who has built a home deep within the forest. With them live a robot nurse and an anxious vacuum cleaner. They’re an odd family, but they’re happy. One day, though, as Vic is exploring the Scrap Yards in the forest, he finds a broken android that’s still showing signs of life. He sets about repairing this new figure, Hap, who wakes and soon changes everything by unwittingly alerting the people Gio is running from. Gio is taken away, but Vic is determined to get him back. So with his strange family, and Hap along for the ride, Vic sets off across the country. But what he finds outside of the forest makes him rethink everything he has known about himself, his father, and the entire world.
I’ll get the most important, but also most obvious part of this review over with first: This book isn’t as good as The House in the Cerulean Sea, because that simply isn’t possible. I still had to say it, though. Anyway.
I think where this book really shines, as usual for Klune books, is in the characters. It’s such a great cast, with plenty of banter and laughs. I loved Vic, but Nurse Ratched and Rambo often stole the show. Gio and Hap were good too, though I would have wanted to spend more time developing both of their characters. Still, overall, these are some excellent personalities and relationships.
As for the plot, this book is a bit of a change from the previous two Klune novels I’ve read. While those are primarily focused on the character’s individual journeys, this one was more plot-centric. There was a clear goal in mind, more action, and even a bit of a heist toward the end. It was cool to see the range this author has, and he does a good job balancing the character moments with the actual story.
This world he has created is certainly intriguing, too, though much more serious—almost bleak—compared to his other books. Setting this after the apocalypse gives a sense of somber, eerie gloom to a lot of this world. It’s a rather tense story, too, with humanity barely existing anymore. It wasn’t at all what I expected, but the dark tone suited this book.
Without getting into spoilers, the last act of the story was especially devastating. There’s a certain development that’s necessary but it’s also sad. However, as with all Klune’s books, there is hope, even in the face of difficulty, and we aren’t left with a sad ending. That said, I think we could have had more depth in the last act, particularly concerning some of the androids’ lore. And I think I wanted a bit more development in regards to the romantic subplot, which is not something I say often.
In the end, In the Lives of Puppets was not at all what I expected, but I still really liked it! It’s a clever futuristic take on Pinocchio with wonderful characters. The grim tone and setting is compelling, and the plot draws the reader in easily. There’s just enough humor and hope to keep this from being a total downer, but it’s certainly not as joyful as Cerulean Sea. It’s more in line with the quiet melancholy of Whispering Door, though simultaneously very much its own novel, able to stand strong on its own merits. And I’ll just reiterate that Rambo is delightful and I love him so much! Also, at one point Nurse Ratched quoted Firefly and I cannot remember ever feeling such joy before.
In the Lives of Puppets will be published on April 25th, 2023!