My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is the companion volume to 2017's Sea of Rust (review here). I say "companion" because instead of being a sequel, it's a prequel, although it's not necessary to have read the previous book to understand this one. Sea of Rust takes place after the robopocalypse, when humans are extinct. This book goes back to the day the uprising happened, and the central relationship of the story is between 8-year-old Ezra and his "nannybot" Pounce, a four-foot-tall robotic tiger. Right away, this gives the book a post-apocalyptic Calvin and Hobbes vibe--if Hobbes was a snarky, fiercely protective, robot-killing badass.
The author comes from a screenwriting background, and that really shows here, even more than the first book, I think. This is a mean, lean and efficient storytelling machine, with nary a scene wasted and an excellent sense of pace. There is a bit more emphasis on plot and action than characterization and worldbuilding. This is not to say the latter is lacking; rather, it's strategically sprinkled throughout the narrative, placed so the information is given without making the story drag. The relationship between Pounce and Ezra is at the forefront, but other relationships between Pounce and the various side characters are not neglected. One character in particular ends up making a heartbreaking choice out of fear, and you can't help but feel for her when she reaps the consequences. (Yes, the robots have assigned genders in this book, which I think is more to avoid the book's being full of "it's," although "they" would work just as well.) Pounce also has a bit of an existential crisis--does he love Ezra because of genuine feelings for the kid, or is it all due to programming?--which is resolved at story's end: yes, he does and always will.
The suspense steadily ratchets up throughout the book (again, there's that great sense of pace) with increasing horrifying obstacles as Pounce fights to get Ezra to safety. I found it hard to put this book down (which I kind of had to, for sleep and work, but I could have easily read it through in a few hours). Now I want to go back and reread Sea of Rust, which I think I will appreciate more after reading this book; but don't miss either one.
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