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In The Lives of Puppets by TJ Klune (book review)

GENRE: Adult Sci-fi
LENGTH: 418 pages

Vic is a human who lives in a forest with a family of robots. When his android father is kidnapped, Vic and the others must travel to the dangerous City of Electric Dreams to rescue him.

The main characters in this novel are Victor ‘Vic’ Lawson (the sole human), Nurse Ratched (a nurse robot), Rambo (a vacuum robot), and Hap (a robot with amnesia).
Vic is intelligent and empathetic and the glue that holds the group together. I can’t speak on if Nurse Ratched bears any resemble to her namesake because I’ve never read One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. She was, however, my absolute favorite character. She can come across as mean but it’s all a front because there’s a softness under all that metal. She’s also the funniest character with her screen (that often has images and hidden messages scrolling across it) giving her a lot more personality. Rambo is anxious but also friendly, chatty, and innocent. He reminded me of a human child. Finally, Hap is a character who initially annoyed me but who gradually grew on me. I have a minor gripe with Vic and Hap’s relationship, but I truly loved how the two were each other’s strength and support.
As you may have gathered, Klune is a very good character writer. His characters are the beating hearts of his stories. From each one’s very first scene we already have a clear idea of who they are as individuals and in relation to one another. The reason I love Klune’s books are for his characters and their relationships with one another. The actual plot didn’t necessarily draw me in, but I knew that I was going to fall in love with the characters and I did. I wanted to gather them up in my arms and protect them all.

If you’ve read Klune’s previous two books (The House in the Cerulean Sea and Under the Whispering Door) then you know what to expect with this book. Just like those it is a cozy fantasy/sci-fi book with a found family theme.
This novel manages to evoke a puzzle of emotions. There’s plenty of humor to be found here and while some of it borders on being too juvenile most of it genuinely made me bust out laughing. At the same time my heart was squeezing in my chest at the heartwarming moments the characters shared. This novel even made me tear up with times and while I’m an emotional person it’s rare I actually cry reading a book. This all may sound like it’s an overwhelming book to read, but Klune masterfully balances the humor, warmth, and heartbreak.
The world building is probably the weakest part of this novel. This is a dystopian novel in which humanity has essentially been wiped out by the machines. The novel sells itself as a Pinocchio retelling but I saw another reviewer (Jordan (Jordy’s Book Club)) liken it also to the Wizard of Oz and after finishing the book I can concur with this assessment. If I was on Klune’s marketing team I would have sold it has the love child of the Wizard of Oz and I, Robot that was adopted and raised by Pinocchio. It’s an odd combination but it works and it adds a level of uniqueness to a cookie cutter sci-fi concept.
Without going into details to avoid spoiling anything, the ending wasn’t at all what I was expecting it to be. That’s a compliment, trust me, because the ending was exactly what I wanted out of this story. It may not make every reader happy but it fits the story like that satisfying final piece of the puzzle.

I was so scared this was going to be the first TJ Klune book I’d read that I didn’t rate highly because I never read sci-fi stories. I am so happy to say I had no need to worry - this story has so much heart that I couldn't help but love it. As I said, found family is at the core of Klune’s recent books and I admire his ability to write stories that have such various plots while keeping a signature that can keep readers returning.

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