I had never heard of Jay Kristoff before this year, which most book bloggers would take as a sign that I’ve had my head buried under a rock. Along with Amie Kaufman, he wrote the Illuminae Files, a wildly popular series, which may be turned into a movie sometime in the near future.
After reading Kristoff’s Lifel1k3, I’ve succumbed to a full-on case of FOMO and will be reading every last thing he has ever written. It’s just that good. No, it’s better than you might imagine. In fact, if an aspiring author wanted me to suggest something for her to read which hit every note perfectly, which was paced exceptionally well, which asked big questions, and which was thrilling to read from start to finish, I’d hand her a copy of Lifel1k3 without thinking twice.
Frankly, I was surprised that I liked the book so much. Nothing about it is usual for me. I don’t read a lot of post-apocalyptic sci-fi and the idea of synthetic lifeforms only interests me in so far as they might be programmed to make coffee or do the particularly disgusting parts of housekeeping like cleaning out the cat box.
Why did I buy a copy? Well, I was in my favorite book store, the scent of fresh paper and ink was heady, and I liked the cover. It looks like a honeycomb and made my mouth water.
What is it about? I’ve heard it described as a mash-up between Romeo and Juliet and The Terminator. That’s fairly accurate, except it doesn’t capture its humor and philosophical earnestness.
The main character is a seventeen year-old girl who is trying to scrape out a living on a junk heap situated in the middle of a radioactive wasteland. All she wants to do is make enough money to buy her grandfather some medicine to ease his suffering and avoid local gangs and religious zealots. Unfortunately, she attracts all the wrong kind of attention when the robot gladiator she built ends up as a smoking pile of spare parts and it looks like she destroyed its opponent with the power of her mind.
A host of fascinating characters accompany Eve on her adventures. There’s Cricket, her cautious robotic sidekick; and Kaiser, a loyal robotic dog. True to their artificial nature, they don’t evolve throughout the course of the novel. Their constancy is a helpful touchstone and is what we end up loving about them.
Lemon Fresh is Eve’s best friend and the fizziest character imaginable. Even when things are at their worst, she hitches up her sassy pants, throws down some eye-popping taunts, and reaffirms her love for her best friend.
“I don’t care who’s after you. Where you’re from or where you’re going. It’s you, me, Crick and Kaiser. No matter what. Rule Number One in the Scrap, remember? Stronger together, together forever.”
Finally, there’s Ezekiel, the impossibly perfect Lifel1k3 who will protect Eve at all costs, but whom she doesn’t trust. If one could imagine the perfect lover, he would be remarkably similar to Ezekiel: dimples, chiseled abs and a penchant for saying the right thing at the right time:
“Deviation’ or whatever you want to call it? That’s just another expression of it. You call it freakish. I call it incredible.” (Translation: you’re perfect because of your faults, not despite them.)
Every romantic on the planet will swoon when he or she reads this line:
“It’s simple to love someone on the days that are easy. But you find out what your love is made of on the days that are hard.”
This rag-tag bunch takes off on a doomed flight, travels through the belly of a sea beast, scrambles through the warrens of a crime-ridden city and races across the desert to rescue Eve’s grandfather and find sanctuary.
There’s scarcely a moment to breathe between one crazy, heart-pounding experience and the next. The pacing makes it nearly impossible to put this book down. If I were to suggest one critique of the book, it would be this: There weren’t enough quiet moments for the reader to look around, absorb everything and get her bearings. I only offer that in a half-hearted fashion, though.
Lifel1k3 poses some deep questions: How real is too real? Is truth really more important than belief? Does one’s past matter as much as one’s present? Is subjugation of any class of beings ever acceptable? If you don’t truly know yourself, can you truly love? Why do villains like chewing tobacco so much?