Book review

Tin by Pádraig Kenny (2018)

Here’s a story that seems to grow in the telling. It’s about mechanical puppets, with a spark of life. They live in Mr Absalom’s workshop. Mr Absalom made them actually. And there are laws about that...only registered engineers are allowed to animate mechanicals. So it’s a pity really that Mr Absalom isn’t actually registered. He still makes mechanicals though. He’s made Jack and Manda and Round Rob and Gripper. They are mainly made out of bits and bobs. Round Rob is made out of an old cooking pot, and his head tends to pop off every now and then, but Rob just keeps on smiling through it all. He’s very good natured. They all are. They’re happy just being friends together, except they might just be a teeny little bit envious of Christopher. He’s real:

‘...I suppose I just want to be proper, like you. I’d like to know what it’s like to breathe and to have real skin. Proper skin. I want to know what it’s like to be small and to grow, and to keep growing.’ Jack looked straight at Christopher now. There was a fierceness in his gaze. ‘I want to be like you and experience normal but important things.’
Christopher was lost for words. He suddenly felt uncomfortable and found he couldn’t look Jack in the eye.
‘Important things like knowing what it’s like to have a mum and dad,’ said Jack.
‘I don’t have a mum and dad,’ mumbled Christopher. ‘Not any more.’

Christopher is an orphan, and can’t really remember his mother and father. He wracks his brains but he can’t seem to remember anything from his life before.

One day Christopher has an accident. He pushes Manda out of the way of an oncoming car, and is knocked over himself. An awful truth is revealed:

He clenched his jaw and squeezed his eyes shut. He jammed his fingers in deep, gave an angry scream, and ripped back the skin on his forearm.
And revealed the gleaming chrome beneath.
No blood, he thought.
Of course there’s no blood, silly, said a voice inside his head.
No blood, because I’m not...

Oh! But Christopher can’t be a mechanical, can he? Mechanicals can’t cry. And they don’t have souls either. It is strictly forbidden to ensoul mechanicals. There were a few once. Cormier Originals, but they are all accounted for, destroyed.

Whatever he is or isn’t, his friends don’t really get a proper chance to talk about it because Christopher is taken away by the Agency. Obviously his friends are going to rescue him. After all, Christopher would have done the same for any of them, wouldn’t he?

And that is where this story really takes off because those mechanicals really behave very much better than any of the horrid humans who are holding Christopher. Mechanicals respect all life forms. They don’t like to kill and they mourn their losses. They are never cruel. They are patient, generous and open. Perhaps having a soul isn’t that great after all if it turns you into a raving lunatic super villain:

‘You see? You see! The one great flaw in the machine. The defining weakness of the basic animated mechanical: the complete inability to do harm.’ Blake scanned all of their faces. He was grinning, and a sheen of sweat was forming on his forehead.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It’s fun and it made me think...doesn’t matter what we are, human or mechanical, we should all just show a bit of respect.

What can I read next?

What a lovely book. It’s a first for Pádraig Kenny so let’s hope he writes some more.

If you enjoy meeting arch villains in your books, you might like to have a look at this fab trilogy by M G Leonard:

This adventure trilogy by Piers Torday might make you think a bit about animal conservation while you run for your lives:

And I think you’ll love the rats in this classic by Robert C O’Brien:

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