When it comes to steampunk, I’m not educated in machinery and screw types. But that’s no reason to avoid every kind of entertainment involving some hands-on lifting and crafting. If I did that, I never would’ve tried out Marissa Meyer’s Cinder, which was the starting point into one of my favourite writers.
Lifelikes, and they’re actually spelled that way in this several-centuries-in-Earth’s-future story, have three laws as, basically, cyborgs, known as The Three Laws of Robotics. Basically, they as a robot cannot harm another human being, must follow orders of human beings, and must protect its own existence if in danger. Hence the slogan, “Your Life Is Not Your Own”. Eve Carpenter is not one of these robots. She lives in Dregs with her grandpa Silas. She scavenges for parts and competes in the WarDome for extra credit, with her little robot friend Cricket, her human friend Lemon, and her robot dog Kaiser. Then one day, the four of them come across an android in a junkpile and when they think they can get some extra stuff on him, he awakens and recognizes Eve, though he’s calling her a different name, and as the world around her splits because of this rather handsome robot, she realizes there’s some sort of manmade virus that negates the function of robots being required to follow those laws, and the people who are after this virus may be after her and her grandpa, and she might be one of the main reasons all this is happening. Thus, we have the first in Jay Kristoff’s now finished LIFEL1K3 trilogy.
You know, I have said that, as a devout reader and reviewer, the most important part of a book is its ending because it is where loose ends either get tied or stay slumped, and things are either wrapped up or given a cliffhanger for the next one. In other words, the ending tends to be the part the most affecting of the final grades I give books, because it’s what I’ll think about the most after I put it all down. But after reading LIFEL1K3, I might have to eat those words. I think the beginning is the most important now. I already felt it was especially important to reluctant readers because obviously it’s the first thing they’ll witness, and it could either suck them into the story or get them to forget it and throw it away. For a fair bit of people, if you don’t have a good way to pull them in, they won’t stick around for the incredible conclusion. And LIFEL1K3’s first chapter is spectacularly written as Eve goes into battle to try and make rent. Too spectacularly. I knew nothing about this Eve, I knew nothing about her financial situation, her hopes, her fears, her taste in music; I knew nothing except that she must be quite the auto nut. With all the parts, the maneuvers, the strange words, I was instantly exhausted, with no emotional connection to the characters making me want to pay attention. Doesn’t help that it’s written in third person. Third person works for various books and authors, but here it’s a lot harder to convey Eve’s emotions as she fights against…whatever that was. After that chapter, she walks home with her companions, allowing some of what I was looking for, but it was still going pretty heavy with all the techno-jumbo.
Kristoff and his wife Amie Kaufman did a similar grand entrance with Illuminae, and because of that I began that Files-themed novel dreading it, especially its advertising of 599 big pages. After the first 30 pages I thought it might end up the biggest disappointment ever. But I in the end awarded that book three stars out of four and went on to devour the other two in the series because it knew when to switch gears from all the exposition and knowledge-dumping and focus on the simple battleship chase and the corruption on board as Kady and Ezra navigate their situation on the separated ships. The art was out of this world too.
LIFEL1K3 is so devout to describing the gears and grids of this place that there’s no problem picturing this place. Beth Revis was right in her praise of this book, in that the world would probably kill her, as it would kill me. I felt like I was in a world that reeked of car oil, smog and copper. But here, if you want to feel like you’re completely understanding what’s going on, you need to take the time to read slowly and carefully, even during innocent dialogue where I was worried if I rushed through I’d miss something and become even more lost. I felt there were just things I wasn’t absorbing properly during so much of this book, and I couldn’t have it in me to give my all.
Is this book fast-paced or slow-paced? I don’t know, honestly. The characters travel a fair bit. They go across various cities and slums, and even get swallowed by a man-made kraken figure built to clean up ocean gunk. That’s a new one. And there are lots of fights and explosions. But it’s a fast-paced story that doesn’t feel fast-paced. Jay Kristoff really amazed me with his work on Illuminae, Gemina and Obsidio, but here, the book really fell on its face. I can only imagine how much better I’d have found it if I was welcomed in at the door.