“Your past doesn’t make calls on your future. It doesn’t matter who you were. Only who you are.”
Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for the review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
On a floating junkyard beneath a radiation sky, a deadly secret lies buried in the scrap.
First up, the setting. LIFEL1K3 takes place in post-apocalyptic USA wasteland somewhat in the vein of Mad Max and maybe some Borderlands vibes (without the humor. Sorry, no Handsome Jack in this story). The world has been wrecked by nuclear wars which has left a lot of the USA (called “Yoosay” by the characters) in shambles. What is left of California (“Kalifornya”) is now called the Dregs and is separated from the mainland now by fields of glass.
The world honestly was the best part of this book. It wasn’t entirely unique as we have seen so many versions of post-apoc Earth in recent years that none of it can really be called original but it was well-built and engaging.
In the same way that the USA is now referred to by its phonetic pronunciation rather than as an abbreviation for United States of America and California has received a similar treatment, there is also some slang unique to this world. Which seems to annoy some readers but really it makes sense. Every generation has their own slang and terms that they use so really it adds to the atmosphere of this world when Eve and Lemonfresh say things like “true ‘cert” (which seems to mean “legit” or “for sure”).
As this world does take place in the future, there are TONS of robots here as well. They range from machina, machines that require a human to operate them, i.e. cars, to logicka, robots with full logic capabilities and frequently even personalities. All robots have to follow the same three laws though:
- Protect humans
- Obey humans (if this does not contradict the first law)
- Protect yourself (if this does not contradict the first two laws)
In true robot story fashion, there are a group of logicka called lifelikes that take issue with these laws.
The lifelikes were created by a man named Nikolai Monrova. He fashioned them after his own family and treated them as such. But nothing ever remains perfect so inevitably things fall apart and some of the lifelikes decide that it would be “better to rule in hell than serve in heaven.”
And as we get into the plot this is where things get a little…icky.
So in all honesty, the story and several of the aspects of it are pretty tropey. Robot uprising, corporations out to take control, romance-focused storytelling at times. And the thing is that tropes are not necessarily bad things. Even when these tropes seem to give away plot twists from thirty miles off, sometimes the fun in reading these stories comes from watching it unfold.
Unfortunately, that just wasn’t the case here.
It is the case in a lot of Kristoff’s other work. The Nevernight Chronicles and The Illuminae Files both are full of trope-ish elements but are nonetheless an absolute joy to read because he goes deeper than just those tropes, never depending on them for the storytelling. But it seemed like that is exactly what he did here.
It may seem this way to us though in part because the characters and their relationships did not at all jump off the page.
Eve was…okay I guess. She really is a standard heroine in almost every way. Except for some reactions she has to revelations at the end of the book that made her almost the worst.
Lemon Fresh was Eve’s best friend and, again, she is pretty standard best-friend-of-the-MC fare. Snarky, spunky, and fiercely loyal.
Cricket, Eve’s logicka friend, was probably the best character and that is likely just because he served as the comic relief.
Ezekial was even less than okay. He had no personality whatsoever except “I love Eve.” And their whole relationship was just awful. Not really in an unhealthy kind of way just that it made no sense and had no chemistry. Even as you learn more about Eve’s history through her flashbacks, their relationship was still empty and possibly the worst trope that was in this book.
Super good looking non-human guy loves the human girl because she’s “perfect for her imperfections” (barf). Human girl herself is somehow super special to pretty much everyone and has magic powers that also don’t make sense in this world.
Really it all had a bunch of Twilight vibes with a little bit of Fallen by Lauren Kate thrown in.
And if you like those stories, great! Being like Twilight or Fallen isn’t a big sin here. The problem is more that these stories have been told before ad nausea and we really had come to expect more from Kristoff.
Beyond that, the plot itself felt really forced at times and the villain, for this book at least, was really dumb and unnecessarily angry.
I can’t count how many times I rolled my eyes while reading this book. I don’t read a lot of YA SFF because I am not a fan of many of the tropes that it employs but I like Kristoff for his ability to go deeper with those tropes and I feel like this book failed on that count.
Cool world, disappointing story and characters.
This exciting world and set up unfortunately did not play out with the story. This setup and let down made for a disappointing read. The author put a lot of cool thoughts and interesting things about this world. But when your lead character does not hold the torch well, you lose me.