LIFEL1K3 by Jay Kristoff (DRC): Hardcore Sci-Fi, not Just For Boys

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4 stars

Eve’s not doing so hot.

The robot gladiator she put everything into building is a wreck and her Grandpa desperately needs medicine, fast. And to top it off, she’s discovered the power to put electronics on the fritz which has led the radical puritanical Brotherhood onto her back.

That’s not to add the random android boy named Ezekiel who fell out of the sky and the bounty hunter that’s now on Eve’s back. Eve’s entire world comes crashing down, and in this dangerous adventure, Eve will learn of the dark secrets of her past.

Even if those secrets were better off staying buried.

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This is like Cinder on steroids. Seriously.

It’s got cyborgs but it’s also got robots and different level of sentient, engineered beings and it’s like Cinder, but way more gritty and intense and science-y. In comparison to LIFEL1K3Cinder looks like a fantasy novel.

I was vacillating between 3.5 and 4 stars for this, but ultimately I feel like this gets the full four stars.

There were things that I loved, and things that I was pretty apathetic to, but there wasn’t really anything that I disliked per se, just that I wished some things could have been done better.

But let’s start with the good, yes?

First off, how awesome is it that YA is finally getting super hard-core sci-fi?

Seriously, I feel like YA sci-fi leans more towards the romantic and the more “gentle” sci-fi. In my opinion, this is because the audience is mostly female and that whoever the people who decide what books get published are somewhat influenced by the (wrong) idea that women don’t like super hard-core sci-fi.

Because I like hard-core sci-fi. And a ton of other people do too. But it’s something that’s a lot more common in adult sci-fi and movies, not YA books.

So having this be like a hard-core sci-fi novel was really really cool. There’s all sorts of gritty, stereotypically masculine things in this novel (robots and cybernetic implants and all sorts of epic). If I had to summarize this aesthetic in one photo, it wouldn’t be that beehive hexagon pattern, it’d be gritty sheet metal. Like this:

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The whole novel screams gritty sheet metal (maybe even the one with the hash pattern on it) and I LOVE IT. This aesthetic is soooo cool and just because the audience is mostly female, doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate or love sheet metal aesthetics.

So yeah, that’s positive thing #1.

This does come with some detrimental aspects to it. I feel like historically, it’s been really hard for any hard-core sci-fi author to really reach that emotionally pulling aspect as well as the grittiness. And similarly, the more emotionally based sci-fi writers don’t really reach that amount of gritty awesomeness that I’m looking for.

The closest I’ve seen to a good balance between these is Emily Suvada’s This Mortal Coil. This book is sooo good, yo. Y’all should definitely read it.

And with LIFEL1K3, I feel like the emotional aspect of the novel wasn’t really played on to the potential it could have been done. I think Kristoff definitely tried, but it felt like he didn’t really succeed.

One of the main selling points of the novel is how it makes you question what humanity means and in some ways, I feel like Kristoff set this up, but it never really got anywhere in this book.

It’s more like he introduced the topic that “oh yeah, engineered people or engineered sentient beings might be people,” but after reading that ending, it felt like he hasn’t really dived into all that moral greyness yet.

This part of the novel has a lot more potential and I wish we saw more of it in this book, but of course because of that ending, it sets up the next book very nicely. I really hope Kristoff works a lot on shaping this idea within the series because I think it’s something that’s a really good moral debate and something that deserves to be executed well.

But for now, in this book, it’s not really talked about as much as it’s introduced. Which I get, but I was still hoping for a little more.

This book is action-packed, quick-paced, and full of twists and turns. I think the whole plot was fantastic. It was interesting and Kristoff pulled off a lot of sneaky moves. Plus, I think that the there’s still a lot more science-fiction goodness in store for us in future books.

The other thing I really liked was the friendships and all the friendship dynamics in this book. I love the connection Eve had with her cyborg dog Kaiser (ok, y’all know what’s going to happen when there’s a dog in a book. or a pet in general.) and her sentient robot buddy Cricket and her best friend Lemon Fresh. I felt like all the friendship dynamics were written well and that the issues that arise between friends were valid and interesting and always evolving.

The thing I wasn’t too fond of between the characters was the romance. Ehh. Meh. [insert a bunch more apathetic words.] I just wasn’t really into the romance and mostly ignored it. Because there were so many better things going on.

I kind of wish that there was no romance in this novel because not every YA book needs a romance. It felt forced and instalovey because it was based on something that had happened in the past. Because of this, I feel like we didn’t really get that or chemistry between the characters that we should have gotten.

This book was so edgy that I couldn’t help but give it 4 stars. It probably in reality deserves a 3.5, but I really appreciate Kristoff writing us some solid hard-core sci-fi, so it’s a 4 in my book.

I definitely recommend to anyone looking for a hard-core sci-fi novel, but I feel like this definitely won’t really click with a lot of traditional YA readers. If you’re looking for fluff or cuteness, you won’t find it here (except in Cricket who’s adorable). This book isn’t sunshine and daisies and unicorns, it’s death, and destruction, and giant, hulking robots.

Thank you so much to Random House & Netgalley for providing me with a digital review copy in exchange for an honest review!

much love, vicky

Which intense sci-fi novels have you read?

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