Book Title: In the Lives of Puppets
Author: TJ Klune
Release Date: April 25, 2023
Genres: Adult, Fantasy, Science Fiction, LGBTQ+
My rating: 5/5 Stars
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?
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 the Lives of Puppets is a beautifully weird, heartwarming (but also heartbreaking) book about accepting yourself, familial bonds, and what it means to be human. As a TJ Klune fan who has read all of his newer releases and several of his backlist books, I had a feeling I was going to like this one, but I was not prepared for how much. This book took me by surprise in the best way and put me through an emotional roller coaster. I loved every second of it.
If you haven’t heard much about In the Lives of Puppets, it’s a story loosely inspired by Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio, with ties to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as well. Klune expertly weaves in details and homages to these original works while keeping his story entirely original.
Additionally, the world building was excellent! Since this book is set in a dystopian world, there’s a lot going on that we might not be familiar with, but there’s never any info dumping about it. Instead, everything is revealed through the characters’ experiences and actions, keeping it easy to follow along with. The word choice when describing the world also enhanced the experience with the book. I had a vivid picture of this world in my mind and never had any issues understanding new concepts, even if they weren’t explained in full detail, which is how I prefer world building. Also, I don’t know how else to describe this, but I just loved the vibe from In the Lives of Puppets. Some stories are excellent at expressing a certain feeling or mood, and this one was no different. I’m not even sure what it was, but I loved it all the same.
Not only was the world building incredible, but the plot was engaging and the pacing was perfect, with a great mix of action-packed, tension filled moments, interspersed with quieter ones between the characters. Never once did I find myself bored or wondering when the next scene would start. I was engrossed the entire time, constantly trying to put all of the pieces of the plot’s puzzle together. While sometimes I thought I knew where the story was headed, it would throw me for a loop just to let me know that I did not, in fact, know everything about it. It was a lot of fun, actually!
Even though I absolutely adored the plot and world building, it was the characters and their relationships that truly made this book shine. Every single character was instrumental to the plot with a vibrant personality that could stand on their own from the others. We had Rambo, the loving and anxious vacuum cleaner who would do anything for his loved ones; Nurse Ratched, the sociopathic nurse android who was sassy and sarcastic and wouldn’t take anything from anyone, especially if they tried to hurt those she loved; Hap, the Hysterically Angry Puppet who was a bit of a grump but with a soft and protective side he only showed to those he trusted; Giovanni, the inventive creator who was filled with empathy, regret, sadness, and happiness all at the same time, who just wanted to be with his family; and then of course, there was Victor.
Victor’s character means so much to me, and I can’t tell you how insanely happy it makes me that he even exists. Victor is asexual, which is done sooo well! Additionally to that, though, it’s not stated on the page that Victor’s autistic, but he has sensory issues, trouble with emotional regulation, social interactions, and eye contact, all of which are traits of being autistic. It’s also stated several times that Victor “processes” things differently, which many autistic people do. As someone who is autistic, I really saw myself in his character, and it made me tear up at points that Victor was allowed to be the hero of his story, while still having sensory difficulties among other things along the way. The other characters knew this was part of him and helped him through it, which is something I wish more people would do. If more neurodivergent people had accommodations, we’d be able to thrive more than we’re allowed to in this neurotypical world.
Watching Victor’s journey, seeing him have the troubles he did, still overcoming all that he did, and by the end still being his authentic self, means more to me than I can ever say. Victor wasn’t cured (which he shouldn’t have to be!), and he still got to have his happy ending. Too often in fiction neurodivergent characters are “cured” by the end, and everything they’ve dealt with is suddenly gone. The fact that this didn’t happen to Victor is incredible. I love his character so, so much and I seriously can’t tell you how overjoyed I am to see someone like him in a book this big.
Now that I’m done rambling about that (sorry, haha! It’s something I’m really passionate about), I need to talk about the relationships! First of all, Victor’s bond with his father, Giovanni was so sweet. Even though they went through their ups and downs, and even though their trust was tried, their bond held through it all. Victor and Giovanni might not be related by blood, but they are family through and through. I also *adored* the dynamic between Victor, Hap, Rambo, and Nurse Ratched. These four had me cracking up! At one point I was reading in public and had to put it down because I was laughing too much and was getting weird looks. I loved these dorks. They made my cheeks hurt from smiling so much.
And finally, I need to talk about the relationship that had be bawling my eyes out (thanks TJ Klune…). Victor and Hap. These two!!! Hap was so protective of Victor, but the same can be said of Victor with Hap. They both wanted to protect each other, and while they weren’t aware of their deeper feelings at first, they both knew they cared for the other a lot. Watching their relationship grow was so wholesome. It was the slowest of burns, which is my *favorite,* and I love the fact that it developed without much physical attraction. Since Victor is asexual, we get to see the purely romantic side of their relationship (which as someone on the ace spectrum myself, I prefer to read about). Their interactions were tender and sweet, and I could not handle it.
If you haven’t read In the Lives of Puppets or if it’s not on your TBR, do it!! You won’t regret it.
Thank you so much to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with a digital ARC in exchange for my honest opinion.
Check out my last blog post: Foolish Puckboy (Tour Post & Review)