"A wonderful retelling of the Pinocchio story…I simply couldn’t put this book down." Rysa Walker, bestselling author of TIMEBOUND
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Sometimes the strings that tie us down are the same strings that set us free. Sixteen-year-old Pia has always lived in a mysterious facility where mechanical strings control her existence. She plays apprentice to her father, Gio, in performing nanotech designs for the Company, and she soon suspects there are diabolical human forces behind the manufactured reality of her world. Though her childhood memories and the origins of the strings remain strangely elusive, she begins to find solace with the introduction of two unlikely friends: daring, irrational Sofia, and calm, tender Marco. As the truths of the past and present unravel together, Pia must find a way to free herself from her strings and escape the facility before facing the wrath of the unstable head of security, Mr. Davis. But to gain her freedom, she must navigate the dangers posed by Davis and by her suspicious new friends to find the real identity of the puppeteer. If Pia can succeed in revealing the secrets of the Company, she may very well find the independence she so desperately seeks. But in her controlled world nothing is as it seems, and the closer she gets to the truth, the graver the consequences.
“My mother told me a story when I was little. It was my favorite story, about a lion. I didn’t remember it before, but I do now.”
Marco blinks, raises his eyebrows. This is clearly not what he was expecting.
“The lion was the son of the King of the Pride, destined to one day be the new king. The only problem was that the poor lion couldn’t roar. The other lions teased him relentlessly about his failings. ‘How can a lion with no roar be a king?’ they would mock. The lion’s only companion was a beautiful young lioness who didn’t care about his lack of a roar. ‘You are who you are,’ she would say, ‘and I like you this way.’ Much to his father’s disappointment, the lion spent more time with her than with the other lions.
“Ashamed of the son he’d created, his father eventually felt he had no choice but to cast his own son out of the Pride, instructing him not to return without his roar. ‘Don’t fail me, Son,’ he said. He didn’t give his son the chance to say goodbye to the lioness.
“For days, the lion wandered aimlessly, foraging for food and seeking his roar in the dark places of the world. He encountered moments of fear, of anger, of beauty, but still he remained silent, his ferocious mouth opening and closing soundlessly with each new experience.
“Until, one day, when by chance alone, his journey brought him full circle, back to his old Pride’s territory. High on a cliff, he watched them, shocked and amazed at how things had changed. His father was old and weak, and his mother was gone. The beautiful lioness was still there, but she was missing the spark he used to love in her big brown eyes.
“His sadness was so complete, so real, that he opened his mouth and bellowed, a mournful roar of melancholy and regret, so loud the entire Pride looked up to see him.”
When I finish the story, I realize Marco is staring at me while I stare off into space, still visualizing the lion and his Pride. “Then what happened?” he asks.
“I—I don’t know,” I say. “My mother always stopped there.”
“I don’t understand,” Marco says. “Did the lion become King of the Pride? Did he marry the lioness?”
I shrug. “I guess that’s for us to decide.”
“Why did the lion have to be so sad to roar?”
I look at him, lost in his gaze. “Sometimes we have to fall all the way to the bottom before we can rise to the top,” I say, quoting my mother’s words.
He nods, although I can’t tell if he really understands. I dance my fingers over to his, and link our pinkies. His eyes flash with surprise. “You feel nothing, right?” he says, the edge of his lip curling.
I grin back. “Honesty is a story about a lion,” I say. “Now, Marco, will you roar with me?”
He frowns. “What?”
“Roar with me.”
“Because we can,” I say.
“I’d feel foolish.”
“Don’t you ever do anything foolish?”
“I try not to. Why would I?”
“Because we’re human,” I say. “No one is watching us here, right? There’s no creepy black ceiling, no cameras, no one to feel silly in front of.”
“So what? We’ll both roar. C’mon. Just do it. Roar.”
“Now. On the count of three. One, two—”
“Wait. I’m not ready.”
I roll my eyes. “One, two, three!”
I stay silent, listening to Marco’s pathetically awkward attempt at a roar, unable to hold back my laughter. “You call that a roar?”
“You tricked me. You said we’d roar together.”
“No, I said we’d both roar, but I never said we’d roar at the same time.”
He shakes his head. “I must’ve missed the difference.”
I roar, as loud as I can, filling the empty room with noise, relishing the way he flinches in surprise. “Did I scare you?” I ask, after I finish.
He roars. It’s a lot better than the last one, maybe even as good as mine, an ear-rending growl of freedom. Although his roar is resounding in my ears, I’m fixated on his hand, which is now entwined with mine, our fingers linked, our knuckles turning white.
When he stops, he says, “Better?” and I say, “Much,” and then we both open our mouths as wide as we can and roar together.
We don’t stop until our throats are raw and our mouths are dry and we can’t stop smiling.
David Estes has always been a masterful writer. I was first introduced to his work when I read The Moon Dwellers, and I have been a fan ever since. This was just another in a collection of stellar books written by this talented author.
Estes' descriptive and imaginative world building is fantastic, with characters who jumped right off the page, grabbed ahold of me and sucked me into their lives. Filled with despair, anger, fear, joy, hope and defiance, this was one emotional rollercoaster ride. Pia was a feisty, strong heroine who, although stuck as a slave, a prisoner to the Company, held her head high. Inquisitive, intuitive and brave, she wasn't afraid to step out of line from time to time - even if it ended with dire consequences.
Fig has to be the best sidekick ever written. I loved his snarky manner and how protective he was of Pia, even as tiny as he was. He proved time and again that he was a true friend, and could be relied on when needed. Marco was an interesting character because he was such a mystery. I wasn't sure how much he could be trusted, but he certainly had a soft spot for Pia, and as their friendship grew and blossomed into more, the more hope I had that he'd be a key to her freedom. As the truth about their past was revealed and the more twisted and despicable the plot became the more I wanted - no needed - Marco to help Pia. But, of course, freedom wasn't an easy thing to achieve and for Pia it would come with a devastating price.
This story was spellbinding. A tale of courage, love and hope, it enthralled me to no end.
About the author
David Estes is the author of more than 20 science fiction and fantasy novels that have received hundreds of thousands of downloads worldwide, including The Moon Dwellers, Fire Country, Slip, Brew, and his new SciFi Pinocchio retelling, Strings. He lives in Hawaii with his inspiring Aussie wife, Adele, rambunctious son, Beau, and naughty cat, Bailey. When he's not writing, you'll likely find him at the beach swimming, snorkeling, or reading under an umbrella.