Jay Kristoff’s TRUEL1F3 (2020) wraps up his YA dystopian LIFELIKE trilogy with a long buildup to an epic battle, set in a nuclear-blasted future version of the “Yousay.” Some humans have (presumably due to radiation-induced mutations) developed superpowers and are often treated as deviants by normal humans; most of our main characters, like Lemon Fresh (named after the detergent box she was found abandoned in as a baby) are in this group. Intelligent robots are everywhere and are bound by Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics … other than a rebel group of advanced “Lifelike” robots, who were treated years ago with a Libertas virus that reprograms them without the Three Laws.
Several of the Lifelikes have been destroyed over the course of the series, but the remaining ones, led by the mentally unstable Gabriel, are determined to set all robots free and, by the way, use that new freedom to annihilate humanity. One of the Lifelikes, Ezekiel, is determined to thwart their plan to wipe out humans, and is doing his best to convince some of the other Lifelikes, particularly his one-time love interest Eve, to switch sides. Meanwhile two mega-corporations — Daedelus, based on cybernetics and high technology, and BioMaas, based on biotech, genetic modification and cloning, but both equally oppressive — are gearing up for a battle to overthrow the other and take control over the entire country.
TRUEL1F3 begins immediately after the end of the second book, DEV1AT3. Lemon Fresh has been taken captive by BioMaas, which wants to use her superpower to destroy the technology of Daedelus. For its part, Daedelus has taken Eve and Gabriel prisoner, and is experimenting with Eve in an effort to unlock the multi-layered security vault that hides the Veritas virus and other trade secret technology. After narrowly averting a nuclear missile attack, the remaining main characters — Ezekiel, the loyal robot Cricket, the Lifelike robot Faith who’s nursing an unrequited love for Gabriel, and several “deviates” that Lemon had befriended — regroup at their not-so-hidden hiding place, a former missile silo, and determine to rescue their friends from Daedalus and BioMaas.
The LIFELIKE trilogy is an action-packed, hard-hitting SF series aimed at older teens and young adults. There are some painful deaths and a good deal of blood and gore along the way, but in standard YA novel style, hope and love prevail in the end. Lemon Fresh has grown from Eve’s sidekick to a strong character in her own right, a damsel who’s determined to rescue herself and burn down the tower, rather than wait for the handsome prince to liberate her. Eve, on the other hand, remains to all appearances firmly on the side of Gabriel and the robots, committed to wiping out all of humanity, and she has the body-count to back it up. It’s difficult to sympathize with her at this point.
The endless made-up slang and jargon can get tiresome, and I think the whole series dragged on for a little too long. Though I was engaged with the characters for most of the series and determined to see how it would all wind up, by the time of the great climactic battle at the end of TRUEL1F3 I was starting to skim.
Overall, though, Kristoff has created a pleasingly complex dystopian world with engaging characters and some intriguing philosophical questions about the nature of humanity and the importance of choices. TRUEL1F3 is a fitting end to the series. I’d recommend it to younger (but not too young, or squeamish) readers who enjoy post-apocalyptic science fiction.