By Royden Lepp
Publisher: Archaia Entertainment
Format: Hardcover, 6 x 9, Full Color, $24.95
Reviewed by: Diamond BookShelf
The first volume of Royden Lepp's Rust is a quick read that sets up a promising story, blending coming-of-age issues with action, futuristic technology and mystery.
Left in charge of the family farm by his absent father, Roman hopes to reprogram a robot soldier left over from a bygone war to work for him. But the various robot soldiers and weapons have changed since their time in the war, raising questions about the degree of control one is able to have over powerful weapons. Roman's situation becomes complicated by the appearance of Jet, a jetpack-clad boy pursued by a menacing giant robot. Roman helps Jet to escape and gains a handy farmhand in the process, but continues to fear for the future.
The visual world of Rust is intriguing, with giant robots and jetpacks, set in a sepia-toned post-war countryside. Lepp deftly balances the steady rhythm of household chores, machine repair and farm work with exciting action sequences and tantalizing questions. Very little information is given about the war, only that it was fought by men and later by machines, some of which still exist and have been repurposed for various practical uses. Roman's father fought in the war and, unknown to his family, stole some machine parts for his own use. The story is narrated by a series of letters that Roman writes to his father, whose whereabouts are not revealed.
A bigger mystery is Jet, who it is hinted may be a robot himself. He seems to know more about the war robots than anyone else, and adamantly warns Roman against having anything to do with the leftover robot soldiers, despite Roman's desire to harness their power. The question of how much to rely on the power of technology is a central theme in this book, which depicts technology in the form of both tools and weapons.
Lepp uses digital effects to depict light and movement that give the book an animated feel. Action and fighting scenes are dynamic and exciting without being overly violent; one of the benefits of using robots as central figures. The robots and human characters are well designed; there is a nice range from small, adorable children to giant lumbering robots. The design of the different types of fighting robots matches opponents that differ greatly by appearance and ability: the giant robots have strength and power, but the much smaller jetpack-wearers have superior speed and agility.
Although the world of Rust is full of fantastic robots, its characters and their challenges are relatable. Roman and his neighbor Jesse both struggle with the pressures of early adulthood and responsibility for their families and futures; problems with no simple solutions. Add a few violent robots to the mix, and you’ve got an entertaining and intriguing story that will appeal to middle grade readers and older.
This handsomely packaged first volume does not contain a complete story, which may frustrate readers looking for more than an introduction. However, it certainly does set up an intriguing and enjoyable premise, promising plenty to look forward to in future volumes.