Published May 2018
*Review by Alexa*
On a floating junkyard beneath a radiation sky, a deadly secret lies buried in the scrap.
Eve isn’t looking for secrets—she’s too busy looking over her shoulder. The robot gladiator she’s just spent six months building has been reduced to a smoking wreck, and the only thing keeping her Grandpa from the grave was the fistful of credits she just lost to the bookies. To top it off, she’s discovered she can destroy electronics with the power of her mind, and the puritanical Brotherhood are building a coffin her size. If she’s ever had a worse day, Eve can’t remember it.
But when Eve discovers the ruins of an android boy named Ezekiel in the scrap pile she calls home, her entire world comes crashing down. With her best friend Lemon Fresh and her robotic conscience, Cricket, in tow, she and Ezekiel will trek across deserts of irradiated glass, infiltrate towering megacities and scour the graveyard of humanity’s greatest folly to save the ones Eve loves, and learn the dark secrets of her past.
Even if those secrets were better off staying buried.
In 1942, Isaac Asimov—the father of modern science fiction—introduced his three laws of robotics:
- A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
- A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
- A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
These Laws, meant to be a guiding principle in Asimov’s robotic-based fiction, have taken on a life of their own and have permeated throughout film, books, other media, and popular culture in general. They have even impacted thought on the ethics of real artificial intelligence. The tales in which we find the Laws often portray the unintended consequences of humanity’s attempt to safeguard itself, and usually act as a cautionary tale. Asimov’s Laws are truly the bedrock that modern robot/android science fiction is built on, and so it was with immense pleasure that I found them at the beginning of Lifel1k3…and that I found them to be turned on their head. That prologue-of-sorts told me exactly what Jay Kristoff was planning for his story, and he definitely did not disappoint. I really loved this book. There were definitely some issues and missed opportunities (we will get to those in a minute), but overall I think this is a wonderful setup for the trilogy.
Before we really get going, I do want to comment on the tagline of the book. You know, the one that describes it as “Romeo and Juliet meets Mad Max, meets X-Men, with a little bit of Blade Runner cheering from the sidelines?” It’s truly one of the best taglines that I’ve ever seen, but it’s really not very accurate. This story is, through and through, a total homage to Blade Runner. Gabriel is 100% Rutger Haur’s Roy Batty. I mean, I kept waiting for him to tell me all about tears in rain. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m very ok with this. X-Men is great, but Blade Runner is by far the superior story, and it does the book a disservice to allocate it to the sidelines. Ok, mini-rant over.
“Why are you doing this?” he asks. The beautiful man does not answer. And I am not smiling anymore. I am screaming.
Back to the review! The story is characteristically Kristoff: beautifully written, well constructed, and full of details that flesh out the universe and make it feel meaty and authentic. Kristoff constructs a world with a back-story that’s cheeky yet grounded, and establishes rules for his universe early and then doesn’t break them. It’s truly well done and goes a long way toward immersing the reader. Many authors don’t do this particularly well, and the reader ends up with either an exposition dump or feeling lost, but Kristoff is masterful at it. Kristoff switches seamlessly between action and exposition, and the story is alternately exciting and heartbreaking. He has a beauty to his writing that is elegant without being flowery, heartfelt and human without being sappy. The human condition is on full display, and it is done with finesse.
And though she never called him Grandpa to his face, it’d always be the name he wore inside her head.
The format of the story is equally well executed. The bulk of the action occurs in the character’s present time, but each chapter begins with a flashback that are at times illuminating and at other times chilling. I looked forward to these flashbacks while also dreading them, and the worst of the violence occurs during them. I’m a sucker for backstory anyway, and the flashbacks are a nice way to provide the needed information (especially since our MC can’t seem to remember anything…).
The pervasive themes—oppression and choice, religion vs. technology—are nothing new to science fiction, but Kristoff does them well. The question of choice—the consequences of one’s choices, the importance of having a choice, what it means to not have it and the consequences of that lack—is especially successful and thought provoking. The story may take place in our distant future, but the questions it raises are relevant and necessary to today. I look forward to seeing where he takes these themes and, more interestingly, how dark and deep he will go with them.
Look outside that door, and you will see a world built on metal backs. Held together by metal hands. And one day, those hands will close. And they will become fists.
The last aspect that I genuinely enjoyed are the characters. Each character is fleshed out and provides a valuable piece to the story. Even Eve and Ezekiel’s traits—which border on obnoxious at times—make sense and fit by the end of the book. The Lifelikes are deliciously morally ambiguous, and I look forward to spending more time with them in the next installment. Lemon Fresh is delightfully sassy and mysterious, and I have a feeling she will be much more important to the story than she is now. Rounding out the group is the loveable Cricket that I simply need more of in my life. Unfortunately, the Preacher feels like a missed opportunity. He feels a little generic and one note, and is a glaring misstep in a book that doesn’t have many. Overall, Kristoff creates a set of characters that the reader can relate to and feel invested in, and I can’t wait to find out where they go next.
There wasn’t a lot that I didn’t like about this book, but the one glaring problem I have is its predictability. I had discerned nearly every twist by the end of the first section, although there was one that blindsided me (I’ll talk about it in the hidden spoiler section). The entire book is a set up for the last twenty pages and, therefore, a set up for the rest of the trilogy. I can’t decide if the predictability was purposeful and part of some grand master plan or a severe underestimation of his readers, but given Kristoff’s track record I can only assume that it is intended. I suppose in that way it was very successful, but it did leave me feeling a bit wanting.
Metal or meat. Blood or current. Everyone deserves a choice.
Despite its predictability, I greatly enjoyed this book. Just because you know the course that the roller coaster will take doesn’t mean that you don’t enjoy the ride, and, besides, the last drop was a doozy. Kristoff sets up his sci-fi trilogy with finesse and in his characteristic style. Die-hard science fiction fans may find it a bit tedious at times (which I think won’t be the case with the next book), but this would serve as a good introduction to the genre for the uninitiated. I have a feeling that the second book is going to be a knockout that everyone will be talking about, so do yourself a favor and read this one now so you’re ready for May 2019.
For some spoiler-ific thoughts just click the link below!
Ok, guys, I’m going to drop some big spoilers here…so either enjoy or turn back now.
Is it just me, or is Eve/Ana obviously a Lifelike and her backstory super apparent? I did not, however, anticipate her switching teams at the end. That was such a wonderful pay off to a book that didn’t have many. This bait and switch is the main reason that I think the rest of the book felt so predictable, and why I don’t think the rest of the trilogy will feel the same. It seriously made the entire book for me. Also, this is an obvious retelling of Anastasia, right? Did anyone else get that or am I way overthinking it? And what does that mean going forward…and who is Rasputin? Let me know what you think!