Books & Literature

Book Review: In the Lives of Puppets, by TJ Klune

In the lives of puppets, by TJ Klune

The last surviving human has to leave his sheltered home to rescue his android father with three robot friends who need a heart, brain and courage.

A cute, quirky adventure of insane robots and the last remaining human who brings them together.

Feature image credit: Pan Macmillan Australia

So few novels surprise as much as those from New York Times bestseller and multi-award winning TJ Klune, an American author celebrated for incorporating gay or other LGBTQI+ characters into his narratives.

In this instance, the surprise is in the assortment of ridiculous characters that create his futuristic fantasy world and just how loveable they are. With unapologetic odes to Pinocchio, The Wizard of Oz, and other similar tales, In the Lives of Puppets follows the trials and tribulations of Victor Lawson, a real boy created by the puppets of a robot world. He is the last surviving human after a robot insurrection, but when his android father, Gio, is captured and returned to the City of Electric Dreams, he is forced to journey out into the world to rescue him.

Joining him are his robotic friends: the sadistically funny Nurse Ratched who needs to learn compassion, frustratingly dopey vacuum cleaner Rambo who desperately needs a brain, and former killing machine H.A.P. who needs the courage to accept but control his programmed urges. Along the way, they meet an assortment of characters, many just as quirky, who either help or hinder their journey. All the while, they struggle to bond with each other in either trust or growing romance.

It’s a character-driven plot, with many long scenes being little more than witty dialogue and very little action. Klune delivers some wonderful one-liners and biting comments that lead to genuine LOL moments, and that keep the narrative interesting even when the story isn’t moving forward. He’s broken the rules of storytelling and succeeded admirably.

When the story does progress, there’s not a lot to it: Boy has a home, boy loses home, boy journeys into the real world with his flawed friends, and they must face their challenges and learn to accept themselves to live happily ever after. That’s a gross over-simplification but about as deep as it gets. The simplicity of the plot doesn’t negate the enjoyment or stunning characterisations that Klune can bring to life however. In the Lives of Puppets is a very funny, gripping and quirky journey into human relationships despite the lack of humans in the tale. As one character notes, the new world is driven by the desire to be everything the AI robots deemed unworthy to survive.

The LGBTQI+ content of In the Lives of Puppets is very subtle. The relationship could easily be misinterpreted as a deep friendship for anyone who is not taking much notice, but it’s there and its subtlety makes it all the more beautiful because it’s not making a point. It’s simply natural.

In the Lives of Puppets is not for those looking for action or queer fiction. It’s a tale for those who enjoy comedy, dystopian futures, and character-driven narratives. And it’s worth it.

Reviewed by Rod Lewis
Twitter: @StrtegicRetweet

The views expressed in this review belong to the author and not Glam Adelaide, its affiliates, or employees.

Distributed by: Pan Macmillan Australia
Released: April 2023
RRP: $34.99

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