Jay Kristoff brings his no holds barred storytelling style to an action-packed, gritty new level with Lifel1k3 (see: Lifelike), a series starter that’s Mad Max meets iRobot meets Anastasia!
Most of America is decimated after a massive nuclear war between futuristic high tech corporations. Evie Carpenter is just barely scraping by, using her mechanical skills and thrifty scrap work to create battle robots and fight them in massive arenas, earning just enough money to pay for her grandpa’s life-sustaining medicine. It’s the least she can do, given that he saved her life when the rest of her family was killed in the war. But when a fight goes bad, Evie accidentally destroys a robot with her mind, revealing herself as a reviled “abnorm.” Now everyone is after her, including local gangs, an organization hellbent on “abnorm” eradication, and a bounty hunter with some heavy duty sponsorship.
Just when it seems things couldn’t get worse, Evie, her best friend Lemon, and their trusty mechanical sidekicks, Cricket and Kaiser, find themselves tangled up with Lifelikes: Powerful machina that look, act, and think like humans. Everyone thought the lifelikes were destroyed after they ignored the three laws of robotics and killed their creators long ago. But as one lifelike comes for her and her grandpa, another sets out to protect them, and Evie learns they’re definitely still around. On top of that, they seem to know her. Evie and her friends must team up with Ezekiel, the lifelike who seems hellbent on protecting her, to save her grandfather and stop the forces trying to destroy Evie, all while the secrets of her horrific past finally unravel.
Jay Kristoff has created a machine-infused, post-apocalyptic Wild West that’s sure to delight. There are lots of details to take in, with new takes on the known world, fluctuating power structures, and even a bit of its own slang. If you love worldbuilding, you’ll be a happy camper for sure, but I loved the characters more than anything. The dynamics in this group are so rich and heartfelt. Evie’s friendship with Lemon is a driving force and you can’t help but root for their streetsmart bravado and constant support of one another. And while there are certainly some evil machines in this world, they’re not all so bad. Cricket is a little logika (but don’t tell him that I called him little!) that really perks up the story with his anxious concern for the girls and his own brand of humor. Kaiser is mostly machine, but he has the brain of a real dog and he’s just the goodest doggo, adding some really touching moments to the story arc.
Then, of course, there’s Ezekiel! Let’s just say that Evie’s history with Ezekiel is “complicated,” particularly considering that she’s a human and he’s a machine that’s learned to feel like a human. Kristoff doesn’t shy away from the romance element– There’s a compelling love story between these two characters, though it contains layers and doesn’t overwhelm the action of their wild adventure. The author also continues his history of quotable feels-slaying moments with gems like “It’s simple to love someone on the days that are easy. But you find out what your love is made of on the days that are hard.”
The novel is broken up into five sections (the first of which is named after a Dresden Dolls song, making me super happy) and I must admit, one of the earlier sections was a struggle for me. It felt like a detour rather than part of the story progression. While it did do a little more worldbuilding that could be significant in book two and hinted at something to come, it tripped up the fast pace. For this novel, I don’t think the plant was worth the payoff, but maybe there are bigger implications to come. It kept me from rating five stars. Thankfully, once the characters move on to a new place, the story picks right back up again.
I can’t talk about the twisty, unexpected loops Lifel1k3 threw me for because you deserve to experience them for yourself, but maaaaan do I want to! The ending in particular really wowed me and now I’m practically begging for the sequel already! Needless to say, the novel did its job well!
RATING: 4.25 OUT OF 5 STARS
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.