Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Rebel Seoul by Axie Oh

Rebel Seoul by Axie Oh is a standalone YA science fiction novel and the author's debut. It's set in a nearish future Seoul, during a very long-running and high-tech war. It's also been described as "K-drama meets Pacific Rim", which is not entirely inaccurate.

After a great war, the East Pacific is in ruins. In brutal Neo Seoul, where status comes from success in combat, ex-gang member Lee Jaewon is a talented pilot rising in the ranks of the academy. Abandoned as a kid in the slums of Old Seoul by his rebel father, Jaewon desires only to escape his past and prove himself a loyal soldier of the Neo State.

When Jaewon is recruited into the most lucrative weapons development division in Neo Seoul, he is eager to claim his best shot at military glory. But the mission becomes more complicated when he meets Tera, a test subject in the government’s supersoldier project. Tera was trained for one purpose: to pilot one of the lethal God Machines, massive robots for a never-ending war.

With secret orders to report on Tera, Jaewon becomes Tera’s partner, earning her reluctant respect. But as respect turns to love, Jaewon begins to question his loyalty to an oppressive regime that creates weapons out of humans. As the project prepares to go public amidst rumors of a rebellion, Jaewon must decide where he stands—as a soldier of the Neo State, or a rebel of the people.

I really enjoyed reading this book. I've made no secret of having watched too many K-dramas (Korean TV shows) in the past couple of years, and this book hit a lot of the same buttons for me as those shows. The biggest difference, really, being the futuristic setting and the inclusion of other satisfying science fictional elements. (Really, I've watched a lot of fantasy/supernatural K-dramas — if you have any science fiction recommendations, please tell me in the comments.) It's not just the setting which hits the K-drama notes, but the casual Korean phrases the author left in the text — it was like Viki subtitles but with much better grammar. But on to the actual story...

About a hundred and fifty years in the future Jaewon, our first person narrator, is a poor kid from the wrong side of the river (literally the Han river) who is on a scholarship to a prestigious military academy in the upper-crusty Neo Seoul. A lot of the story places him between two extremes: rich school friends with promising futures on the one hand, and local gangs and unskilled labourers and foot soldiers on the other. The war affects everyone in this strangely post-nation world, but of course it affects some people worse than others.

Against the backdrop of Jaewon trying to do his best and not get into too much trouble, other people are brewing trouble around him. There are the rebels who want Korea to go back to being a country, there are weird medical experiments, and there's a shady past surfacing to further complicate matters for Jaewon. There's also a romantic storyline and a troubling storyline for one of Jaewon's friends. I particularly liked the fact that although there is a major war on and children are being recruited into the military, the teenaged main characters aren't expected (by the narrative, as well as by the adults) to save the day and fix the world. Given some of the set up, that would have been an easy trap to fall into. The only thing I didn't really like in this book was the history of the ongoing war, which was a bit weird, especially with how it was being referred to. That said, the present consequences and so forth were fine, so I was able to overlook it without too much trouble.

This was a very enjoyable book to read and I think fans of YA science fiction (particularly dystopias and similar) will find a lot to like here. Honestly, I feel a bit weird calling this a dystopia. Because it absolutely is, fighting mechs can't change that, but aside from the constant large-scale war it didn't feel that much more dystopian than parts of the real world (and they had levitating phones). Anyway, I strongly recommend this book to fans of YA, nearish future science fiction and mechs. I especially recommend it to readers interested in a non-USian setting.

5 / 5 stars

First published: 2017, Tu Books
Series:No (or, well, not yet? I'd read more if a series were to eventuate)
Format read: Hardcover! Try not to die of shock ;-p (actually the ebook isn't available outside of North America, so I had no choice)
Source: Book Depository :-/

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