Published by Tu Books on September 15th 2017
Source: Publisher, Edelweiss
Genres: Science Fiction, Dystopian, Young Adult, Action & Adventure, War & Military, Romance, Own Voices
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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.
Pacific Rim meets Korean action dramas in this mind-blowing, New Visions Award-winning science fiction debut.
Only countries destroy other countries. Only selfishness breeds selfish actions. Without nationhood, there is no war. Without nationhood, there is only peace. Unity in all things; humanity above monstrous division.
Step into a dazzling, yet conflicting world where war propaganda runs rampant, and the Eastern Asian countries have come together to form a Neo Alliance that may do more harm than not. From the first person perspective of Jaewon, an ex-gang member from Old Seoul that’s torn between two sides of a war, Rebel Seoul is exhilarating, empathetic, and made me feel all the emotions. Set in a futuristic Korea, this book is what you would get if you made elements of Pacific Rim into a Korean drama. You have heartbreak and heartache, the camaraderie between friends and family, and romance that’ll make your heart sing. At the same time, there’s heart-stopping action and robots set for war. And let me tell you – it makes the best combination.
Although Jaewon lives in Old Seoul, he attends Apgujeong Academy in Neo Seoul, where the rich and elite go on a scholarship. He receives extremely high marks on SimTech battles, which are virtual reality battle situations that help prepare the students as soldiers. Because of that, he gets assigned as a partner to Tera, a mysterious girl who was actually made to be a weapon for the Neo Alliance. The politics in this story is very easy to follow, and Oh creates a really multifaceted world that, if anything, makes sense to what the future could be like. The philosophy for the Neo Alliance is that war is inevitable, while parts of East Asia are rebelling, holding onto a more sympathetic belief that highlights the protection of nations and their culture. Jaewon’s father was such a rebel for the United Korean League, although he died and left Jaewon with a legacy he didn’t want.
Old Seoul has only brought me heartbreak – I want to leave it all behind. If I can just hold onto my academy scholarship, Neo Seoul will give me a future.
Throughout the book, Jaewon is torn between many things. He’s such a refreshing character that really jumped out of the pages. One of these conflicts is his friendship with Young, a member of a gang in Old Seoul that was his childhood friend and best buddy until a betrayal. This friendship is the bromance of my hearts, complete with interactions that made me feel so many emotions. It’s a friendship with sacrifice, much regret, and even more love. Another conflict Jaewon deals with is balancing his rebel father’s legacy with his current life serving Neo State and working with the girl they’ve experimented on to create a turning point in the war. There’s so much Jaewon questions and his hesitancy and doubt just made me love him even more as a character. Readers will really empathize with him as he struggles with his conflicting sides.
All the other characters are also as three-dimensional and lovable as Jaewon. There’s Alex, a chaebol who on the outside appears spoiled but has hidden depths. We also meet Tsuko, a staunch believer of the Neo State who has a hidden connection with Tera and Ama, another “weapon” that the Neo State is trying to use for their war. At first, I had my reservations about Sela, a famous pop icon who pops in and out of the story mostly to commercialize the war cause, but she ends up having hidden facets as well. All of them have ulterior motives that accumulate from their experiences and views on the world, making for a very variegated cast in Rebel Seoul where each character has a plan in mind.
I thought the romance was well-written, with perfect pacing as Tera and Jaewon are hesitant about each other at first but eventually warm up as they discover and understand more about the other. Tera was raised as a weapon and only knows war, but she starts questioning her existence and what – or who – exactly she is. Jaewon really likes needling her composure (which is SO CUTE. Total kdrama vibes.) and she in turn retaliates with tough love. I also love how physically strong Tera is. She can beat up Jaewon in an instant if forced to (he knows that!) and I just really like that dynamic to their relationship (it’s not in an abusive way, either, but rather as a self-defense mechanism of how she grew up). 😀
‘You’re just… you. A girl with dreams and desires. If that’s not human, I don’t know what is. There’s nothing special about you. Sorry.’
As the actions of the United Korean League start increasing, Jaewon finds himself caught up in the middle, as an important player on both sides. He has to decide where exactly his belief and loyalties lie, and the sacrifices he would have to make to keep those beliefs. The book is full of fun action, has a solid world that is easily applied to the story and plot, and intense from beginning to end. It took me not only on a physical journey, but an emotional one as well.
You can always have what you want, you just have to want it.
I want it.
There are so many things that I want.
I need more science fiction stories set in futuristic non-Western countries! Rebel Seoul had everything I love in a scifi: conflicted and dimensional characters, a brewing plot that has a solid foundation, and exhilarating action and battles that kept my adrenaline up. I’m so happy with this story and absolutely need a sequel – although I’m not sure if it’s set for one. Let’s just say that I will be first in line if there is! I highly recommend this book to SFF readers tired of the same old story and “plot twists” that YA dystopians love. I would also recommend this side-to-side with Want by Cindy Pon (my review here), another sci-fi with a diverse cast but set in futuristic Taiwan. Oh creates not only a dynamic setting, but also extremely well-developed characters and relationships that shape their actions and the course of the future in Rebel Seoul.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
I wrote this review while listening to the playlist created by Axie Oh, found over here on her website!
Thank you Edelweiss and Tu Books for the review copy!