Hello, everyone! I’m very excited to be bringing you this review today. I started reading In the Lives of Puppets as soon as I was approved to receive it on NetGalley, and I couldn’t be more grateful to Tor for allowing me to read it early. I love everything I’ve read by TJ Klune, and this book was no exception. This will largely be spoiler-free ramblings about how much I loved the book. Consider yourself warned. lol.
New York Times bestselling author TJ Klune invites you deep into the heart of a peculiar forest and on the extraordinary journey of a family assembled from spare parts.
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?
Inspired by Carlo Collodi’s The Adventures of Pinocchio, and like Swiss Family Robinson meets Wall-E, In the Lives of Puppets is a masterful stand-alone fantasy adventure from the beloved author who brought you The House in the Cerulean Sea and Under the Whispering Door.
***Thank you to Tor Books for providing an advanced copy of the book via NetGalley. My review contains my honest thoughts about my reading experience.***
Surprising no one, I absolutely adored this book. If you’ve enjoyed Klune’s previous work, you will likely enjoy this story too. It had the whimsy of The House in the Cerulean Sea, the existential musings of Under the Whispering Door, and a sprinkle of the sexual humor seen in The Extraordinaries. The story and characters were full of heart and a joy to read, even in the parts that made me incredibly sad. Despite being bleak at times, a thread of hope in the form of connection weaves its way through everything that happens. I laughed. I cried. I felt awe and anxiety. The story put me through a wide range of feelings, as Klune’s stories usually do.
I love the found family trope, and no one does it quite like TJ Klune. He created such an odd mix of personalities for this story, and it was heartwarming to see them form such strong bonds. Connection is a major theme in much of Klune’s work, and this book utilized a combination of found family and fascinating science fiction elements to explore it in compelling ways. The plot and world-building were interesting, but the real draw was definitely the characters and their relationships. The story was largely divided into three parts: intro to the characters & world, the journey, and the final battle & its aftermath. At first, I thought it was just going to be a story about the relationship between Vic and Hap that explored the development of Hap’s humanity and his integration into their eccentric family. I would have honestly been happy with that, but, of course, Klune had to bring the pain, which then sent the family on a journey to save one of their own against all odds.
I immediately fell in love with the characters. Rambo, the chronically anxious roomba, has forever changed the way I will look at my vacuum robot. He was just so incredibly wholesome and hilariously naive that I dare anyone not to fall in love with him. Nurse Ratched was a sociopathic nurse droid with a killer sense of humor, literally. She had me laughing out loud at her morbid jokes and inappropriately timed sex talks. Vic was the heart, and only human, of the group. He was incredibly special and cared deeply for others. Gio was the father figure who raised Vic, but he had a huge secret and a lot to atone for in his past. Finally, there was Hap, the newcomer they found in the scrap heap. His relationship with Vic was a highlight of this book and the backbone of the story. The connection between them helped Hap become more and more human, and seeing that growth bit by bit was so beautiful.
Klune explored so many powerful themes and fascinating questions in this book. What does it mean to be human? Is it possible to do “bad” things for good reasons and still be “good?” Can I love someone for who they are now without forgiving wrongs from the past? The story presented growth as integral to the human experience and illustrated how connection is key to growth. It also delved into many other fascinating topics, including artificial intelligence, the impact of humans on the world, how to rebuild in the aftermath of loss and trauma, and the role of memory in identity formation, among others. There was a lot of deep stuff that really made me think, and it was all wrapped in a package of delightful fluff that I ate up.
Overall, there was never any doubt in my mind that I would love this book. I know this is a standalone, but I would really love to get more stories set in this world. There was so much left to explore, and the end was quite open. So, I’ll keep my fingers crossed for a sequel one day. Needless to say, this has automatically become a new favorite and gets 5 out of 5 stars.