Toy Wars by Thomas Gondolfi – 4 stars
Don wakes from a normal manufacturing process as a two-meter, sentient teddy bear sporting purple fur. He learns he is the result of a desperate gamble by an autonomous factory with hashed programming. To protect his home, his way of life, and his creator, Don must lead other killer toys across a harsh alien landscape to battle the native fauna of Rigel-3 and even his own kind.
His discoveries change not only his view of the wars, but his own Human gods. In spite of these trials, Don’s harshest test may be getting his own brethren to believe his adventures and the soul-churning changes needed to survive.
The only thing I didn’t care for about this book was the prologue. It opens with an explanation of the events that lead to the moment where the story actually begins, as a telling of historical fact. While the omission of this section would have made some parts of the story harder to grasp, especially at the beginning, I was reminded rather too much of reading a history textbook for my tastes.
Once past that, the story is brilliant. Teddy 1499 goes through a logical, sometimes tragic sequence of self-awareness and maturation. His adventures are gripping and display a deft world-building hand with the inclusion of living creatures able to survive on a world with mercury as the dominant liquid instead of water. His loneliness is real and heartfelt, and his failures are crushing.
I can’t quite tell who to best recommend this book for, as it seems like it should appeal to a wide variety of readers, so long as you’re not expecting a riff on the Toy Story movies. This is not a kiddie story. Though is has no objectionable material for young readers, I suspect those under about 14 wouldn’t connect with the mature themes of war, regret, and some forms of insanity.