The Cybils Speculative Fiction Bookmark:
As a panelist for Cybils YA Speculative Fiction, Round 1, I'm going to be briefly writing up some of the hundreds of books I read as part of the award. As panelist conclusions are not for public consumption, the purpose of these write-ups is primarily to keep track of what I'm reading, and will mostly touch on plot synopsis, with minimal comments on thematic tropes.
Synopsis: Lee Jaewon is doing what he has to, to stay in the Neo Seoul military school where he attends. His side-hustle in this war-torn place is actually three jobs - one of student, doing his best to hang on to his grades, and the other two as couriers for war vets - and those who need black market items. He's barely making ends meet, but he's got rent money and food, at least. Alone in the world - abandoned by his bestie, who stepped away from him to gain power in a gang, and by his mother, who, after the execution of his father for being a traitor to the new state, left Jaewon to the Old Seoul gangs when he was eight, so he'd have a "better life," Jaewon is a realist - and bitter. As a realist - and the son of a traitor - the worst thing Jaewon could do is get mixed up with the Director's son and his mad schemes, but here he is -- being recruited to the military weapons complex in Neo Seoul. He's a senior with everything to lose, so he's going to do his best to make his mark, take his money at the end of two years, and escape his past.
At least that was the plan before he discovered what his job for the military is going to be - working in weapons development. And the weapon is a supersoldier... a girl who doesn't exist, who has no future, and no past. She's a weapon. When Jaewon realizes that he sees her as a person, he tries to keep his distance. She warns him that she will hurt him -- that eventually, she hurts everyone. As events hurtle to a confrontation between New and Old Seoul, the state and the seething rebellion of the people, Jaewon wonders what it is that he's been fighting for - and if any nationstate is worthwhile if it treats people as objects. There are choices to be made.
Observations: There are myriad Korean words used within the text, many of which the reader will be able to decipher from context clues, and many Asian groups represented in authentic and matter-of-fact ways, including the correct ordering of their patronymic and given names, which is nice to see. This is a wildly futuristic novel, and the setting is chock full of bright lights, K-Pop style bands, vice and luxury existing alongside filth and poverty, all set against the backdrop of an endless rebellion after the war in the East Pacific. Yet, for all of the Blade-runner vibe, this is a sweeping, deeply sentimental romance -- boy meets girl, girl could break boy in half, they fall in love anyway. The deeper theme of both loving and criticizing a national ideology are especially pertinent for readers of all nations just now, and engage critical thinking beyond the satisfyingly swoony and dramatic romance.
Conclusion: A sure hit for teens seeking cinematic, action-packed, futuristic science fiction, this novel also touches on quieter emotions such as loneliness, loyalty, and love.
I received my copy of this book courtesy of the publisher. You can find REBEL SEOUL by Axie Oh at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!