The second volume of Royden Lepp's Rust will be released by Archaia in just a couple of weeks, and if you're a fan of the first volume of this quiet yet intense pastoral adventure series, chances are that you can't wait to read this second book. And if you haven't read volume one, there's plenty in volume two to make you excited.
In Secrets of the Cell, the mysteries presented in volume one get deeper, the characterizations get more complex, and the world of the farm at the center of this book gets more fleshed out. It's interesting how Royden broadens and expands the world that he's created in this series by simply allowing readers the chance to spend more time with these characters that we started to like in the first book.
The relationship between young Roman and his neighbor Jesse is at the center of Secrets of the Cell, and it's a relationship that's subtle and sweet and kind of intriguing. These two kids — they can't be more than 20 years old or so — are forced by circumstances to be in charge of everything that happens at the farm. Roman and Jesse have been neighbors for many years and are extremely close friends, so there's a tremendous amount of trust between the two of them. They're comfortable working together in the barn, getting war robots to work and just spending time together. They're like a very young married couple, extremely comfortable with each other but stumbling to find the right solutions to the strange problems that they're facing.
And Roman and Jesse are facing some strange and difficult problems. See, the farm has somehow found itself in a small reprise of the war that forced Jesse's and Roman's parents off to war and placed the mysterious Jet Jones at the farm to help out. Roman's farm also gains a few robot helpers, including the one that was the cause of the cliffhanger at the end of book one, and is again the cause of a new, much more frightening cliffhanger at the end of book two.
Despite the stately pace of this book, its muted earth tones, and its sincere style, there's something scarier and more profoundly upsetting happening in Rust that nobody in the story really expected. Maybe the war really isn't over yet, at least for the machines of war that are sharing this calm farmland setting. Or maybe our young heroes really have gotten involved in something more real and terrifying than they ever expected. There's a feeling of kids getting involved in things that they really should stay away from — that despite their wishes to stay away from a war that swept their parents away from their quiet, vast farmland, the war is forcing them to confront the truth of pain, fear and raw terror that war represents. They've only been playing but suddenly the war becomes a part of their lives that is impossible to avoid.
Of course, it's still early to declare that this book is some kind of parable for the way that the world forces children to leave their innocent naiveté or about how it's impossible to escape a truly horrific war, even when you live thousands of miles away from the battlefront. There's no way of knowing where Royden Lepp will take this story in the last two chapters of Rust. But this second volume adds complexity and mystery to the story that began in the last book even while making readers care about the characters more than we did before.
It's impossible to project where Royden Lepp will take these characters in future volumes, but Rust: Secrets of the Cell deepens the mysteries of created in Visitor in the Field in ways that are both satisfying and intriguing. When does book three come out, again?