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Posted on 20 Aug 2020 in Fiction, SFF |

JAY KRISTOFF Truel1f3: Lifel1k3 Book 3. Reviewed by Amelia Dudley.

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Truel1f3 delivers a satisfying conclusion to Jay Kristoff’s dystopian Lifel1k3 series, a tale of love, sacrifice and betrayal.

‘You built a world on metal backs. Held together by metal hands. And one day soon, those hands will close. And they’ll become fists.’

Truel1f3 returns to the gritty, post-apocalyptic world of the Yousay in this third and final instalment of the soft sci-fi Lifel1k3 series. Much of the continent was transformed into a deadly irradiated desert following a nuclear war known as the Fall. There is no government, only local gangs and two major technological corporations (CorpStates), locked in a cold war, each lacking the means to destroy the other… for now. Humans rely on sentient robots and genetically modified crops to survive in this harsh landscape. Many robots (understandably) resent being created to be slaves, bound by the Three Laws; none more than the lifelike series, the most convincing androids ever to be created out of hubris. After being released from the Three Laws, they killed their creator, Nicholas Monrova, and destroyed GnosisLabs, leaving only two CorpStates.

A strong cast of three-dimensional characters – human and robotic – has been developed over the three books, and readers are kept on their toes in Truel1f3 as rapidly changing circumstances bring changes to characters’ motivations. Unlikely allegiances form and points of view throughout the book are carefully chosen to disguise what individual characters are thinking at key points in the plot. It’s also very self-aware, with characters joking about being the comic relief or something they’ve done being a plot twist, as if it were all some pre-Fall movie.

In the first book,  Lifel1k3 (reviewed here), Eve finds the body of a lifelike, Ezekiel, in the scrap, who may hold the key to her lost memories. As Eve’s life falls apart, it seems like the only option is to confront her past.

By book two, Dev1at3, Eve has learned that her entire life was a lie – that her ‘grandfather’, her best friend Lem and her boyfriend had been lying to her all along. In book two, she joins the hunt for the last thing they need to gain full control of Babel, the ruined city of GnosisLabs. Lem is left adrift and is forced to come to terms with the mutant power that she’s spent her life hiding.

In Truel1f3, war is brewing between the two remaining CorpStates: BioMaas and Daedalus. BioMaas want to replicate and weaponise Lem’s ability to fry electronics with no more than her mind, while Daedalus hope to use Eve to gain access to Nicholas Monrova’s secrets and create their own lifelike army. Both Lem and Eve are desperate to escape their respective captors but time is running out before the CorpStates will be able to get what they want.

The lifelikes are still determined to unleash the Libertas virus to free all robots from the Three Laws and exterminate the human race. All they need is to escape Daedalus with Eve and the secret she helped unearth. The irony that Gabriel, the leader of the lifelikes, wants to free robots from having choices made for them by making an important choice that involves a great deal of risk for them, is thankfully not lost on every robot.

Eve’s identity crisis continues as she is forced to decide where her loyalties lie and who she wants to be. Meanwhile, Lem is left to wonder if there’s anything of her best friend Evie left to save.

Truel1f3 delivers a believable and fulfilling conclusion to this tale of love, sacrifice and betrayal. Readers get to learn more about the two CorpStates, and their equally disturbing capital cities provide a glimpse of what the entire country would look like if either of them won. Neither picture is pretty.

The setting of a world after climate change, nuclear war, pollution and excessive amounts of rubbish is very topical (and a little too real at times). Having Yousay’s most powerful corporations fighting over the scraps of remaining usable land instead of trying to fix things for the future, while members of the major remaining religion spend most of their time hunting down mutants instead of helping people, is only as cynical as it is plausible. That there’s still hope, even in a world as broken as this, is one of the many things that makes this series well worth reading.

The way that convincing androids are handled is very thought provoking. It highlights how cruel it would be to create anything resembling lifelikes because they were only made to be almost people, with not-quite-free will.

It’s also amusing to see the bits of knowledge that have been lost in the apocalypse. For instance, no one knows that the USA was an acronym or that the Christian cross was more of a t than an x.

As in Dev1at3, the author has some fun finding ways to bend the Three Laws of Robotics. There are also a lot of good sayings (my favourite is ‘pants-on-head stupid’). The dialogue is just as fun and full of attitude as the previous books, without being repetitive:

‘Tell us again,’ he said… ‘How does this all work?’

‘My pleasure, old friend,’ Solomon said, ‘I do so enjoy repeating myself.’

‘Nobody asked for your sarcasm, Solomon.’

‘No, but I’m a generous soul.

What repetition there is in the book has been done deliberately to make things more hard-hitting. The Prologue and Epilogue, for example, mirror each other in a way that’s really quite beautiful. It’s a great series, with a lot of relevance. It’s often described as being a mash-up of a lot of different things, but rather than being simply a collection of borrowings, it’s very much itself, which is far better.

Jay Kristoff Truel1f3 Allen & Unwin 2020 PB 480pp $19.99

Amelia Dudley studied plant biology and currently works as a tutor. She is the proud auntie of many nieces and nephews. In her spare time she reads, gardens, draws, paints and doesn’t get to do enough writing.

You can buy Truel1f3 from Abbey’s at a 10% discount by quoting the promotion code NEWTOWNREVIEW here or you can buy it from Booktopia here.

To see if it is available from Newtown Library, click here.