Puppet is a retelling of Pinocchio, but almost in the opposite way. You see, Penelope is very much human, until she willingly goes to live with Jed the scientist and his son James. She agrees to that because she wants to get out of that orphanage more than anything else, and throughout the book we see that she is very thankful to Jed for that, even though she doesn’t appreciate what she is becoming, but she feels it’s the least she can do for her saviour. But becoming superhuman will have consequences.
First of all, that cover is gorgeous, and what drove me to the book in the first place. Now, I’m going to be straight here: this was in large part a pretty disappointing read. The character development and world building in Puppet are pretty close to null. The book is written in first person, so sort of like a diary entry by Penelope, which is fine in some cases, when the author manages to give us both the characters thoughts/feelings AND a good notion of the environment they’re in. But that didn’t happen here.
For a long time, we are stuck with the same 3 characters. Jed is James’ father but so often he is portrayed as the child amongst them, at least in terms of behaviour and reactions. James is so much more mature and composed than his father, and he obviously cares about Penelope but, to me, in a sibling, protective sort of way. So as you can imagine, the romance developing between those two was beyond disappointing because it was so unrealistic, especially since I could smell it since the first few pages. Yet another book where there just has to be a romance, no matter how implausible. I would have been so much happier with the book if they had become true brother and sister, watching that relationship unfold would be a pleasure. And Pen… Well, she’s like a broken record. Saying the same things over and over again. I could not relate to her in the least and could not even care what happened to her.
Especially during the first quarter of the book, I found some descriptions just so repetitive… Like the paragraph about Penelope’s parents and the cross; how we are told time and time again that marionettes, and then Penelope, can shuffle cards so much faster than humans and crush things like rocks with their bare hands; how, for at least the first 5 chapters, we hear Penelope, in every single one of them, saying she is not pleased with what she’d become but she owed so much to Jed that she wouldn’t do it any other way and she really wanted to make him happy. All this and more made me go Ok, I got it the first time, give me something new…. The book stretched on forever because of this, even though it is fairly short and in more than one occasion I pondered quitting – which I never do because I am that stubborn.
Apart from the repetitiveness, most of the time I just felt very disappointed because there was so much telling and not enough showing. Though she keeps going on and on about how awful the orphanage was, the fact is we don’t really know much about what Pen went through, or even what her deal with Jed was exactly, the specifics of it, only that he kept asking her if she was sure she was okay with it and that his smile was lovely (*sigh*). Saying that all he did was due to ‘cell manipulation’ was overly simplistic and the whole process felt that way as well. Such a thing had never been attempted and yet Jed got it the first time. There is talk about side effects that he subdues with pills but what are said side effects? How did he detect them? Actually, we find out in the end there were no side effects to begin with; how realistic is that?) Was there any pain involved? What about the whole trial and fail process that usually comes with trying something for the first time? What was the process? Was there one in the first place? No, just shots of a yellow liquid. I mean, for a book which tries to contradict people’s opinion of it all being magic instead of science, it sure doesn’t focus on the science part much!
After the first 25% the book finally started to pick up some memento. The administrators stop by, having heard about Penelope’s abilities. That’s when Jed sneakily takes away her inability to lie. I have to give kudos to the author here. The way it was done was clever, and the way Pen gradually realized what had happened is well achieved.
The narrative continues with lots of action and finally we get a plot twist. It wasn’t my cup of tea and I have to admit I did not fully grasp the explanation and how it affected what I had read up to that point. If when Jed visited Duquesne was the turning point where he agreed to their plot, I don’t understand why there weren’t slight changes in his behaviour and even James’. Regardless of when James was told, he at least knew he was supposed to be captured. Also, I just didn’t find believable that James would point a gun at her. The James I read about would have sat her down and calmly say “Pen, there’s something I need to tell you.”. And it made no sense to me that she could not fight the control in the least when crushing the man’s arms and suddenly she is able to gain full control, though painfully, when she wants to save James. There was so much more I wanted to know. Like what the prisoners at the facility were in for, what that poor man was disagreeing to, etc.
The ending was overly simplistic as well. I would have liked to know what exactly happened to Edelin. I mean, he could have argued that he acted in self defence, she was trying to strangle him. He had lots of administrator supporters, right? So what exactly happened? Poof and the bad guy goes away?
It was very disappointing that the ‘powers’ Pen had bore down to shuffling cards super fast, crushing things with her bare hands and being fast. Those three things were mentioned to exhaustion and I didn’t get why Jed didn’t, for instance, make her more resistant, if cell manipulation is as easy as it is portrayed. Especially after mentioning marionettes’ bodies were indestructible. Alas, there is plenty more that I can no longer remember at the time and also some misspellings which should be addressed.
So, at the end of the day I felt disappointed because the concept was really interesting. For a long time, I felt more excited when reading the synopsis than the book itself. But it did end up picking up a bit and I am glad I trudged on instead of quitting. It’s a fairly enjoyable read, if you can get past that first quarter and the plot issues and the fact that a lot of the time the story seems to keep revolving around the same things instead of exploring many others. I find the book wants to be, more than a sci-fi story, one about a lonely girl who doesn’t really know how to love or what a family is. That’s all she really wants and it takes her a while to realize it’s already there. But it tries too much to be YA, making caricatures out of pretty much all adult characters and focusing so much on the romance. This book could have been so much more.
Read from January 22 to 25
I would like to thank the publisher and Netgalley for providing a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.