Rebel Seoul, by Axie Oh

If you  like near-future-earth science fiction (if not quite 200 years counts as near future), with military robots and conflicting visions of  what the government should be, and teens caught up in the push of forces (maybe) beyond their control and struggling to find peace to love each other and come to terms with both past and present, and want a page-turner of a book that will keep you engrossed and absorbed even if those things aren't tops on your reading list, do go get your hands on Rebel Seoul, by Axie Oh (Tu Books, YA, September 2017).

I really enjoyed the book, and I don't, in fact, like futuristic urban grit and inequality, such as this future Seoul offers, and which the main character, Lee Jaewon, deals with on a daily basis (economic inequality, gangs).  My want to read list includes almost no books featuring robots of war, or high tech war in general, yet I was gripped and fascinated by Jaewon's military training, and his relationship with a girl his own age, Tera, who is herself a crafted weapon of war.  I don't particularly like totalitarian governments suffering massive casualties while suppressing Nationalist rebellions, but here the war did not drive the plot, but rather gave the main characters a stage on which to change, and grow, and become real to me. It was also interesting that Totalitarian did not equal Nationalist, as it so often does.

Basically, this is a book that, in clear and vivid prose, asks interesting questions of interesting people caught in an interesting setting and plot.  And really, who could ask for more?  (well, I guess I could have asked for a peaceful bit where Jaewon and Tara spend several weeks exploring an abandoned temple in the mountains, appreciating the antiques, foraging for food, and perhaps taming a small woodland creature, but I enjoyed it lots without this.  They did get a day in the ruined temple, but they were too beat up/and about to be attacked again to enjoy it....).

So the Kirkus review calls this a "plot-heavy" story as if that's a bad thing, and I'm not sure what they mean.  I was certainly aware that there was a plot, but I thought I was reading a book about two lonely teenagers caught in a war they didn't want to fight, trying to make peace with their lives and their ghosts and keep from getting killed while falling in love with other, so heavier on the character side of things than the Big Plot side of things.  I think of "plot-heavy" books as being ones I start to skim because too much is Happening and I Don't Care, but I did not skim any of Rebel Seoul.  Kirkus also says some of the dialogue was stilted; I did not notice this, and it's pretty easy to throw me out of a story with clunky dialogue. I am also willing in general to let characters talk in stiff, even awkward, language if they are expressing difficult emotional thoughts while people are trying to kill them or such like.

Short answer--I read it with great pleasure in a few hours that flew by, and can see why it won the 2014 New Visions Award from Tu Books.

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher


  1. It's on my Cybil's list, so I'll just say I read it, too. ☺

  2. Yay goody! I actually just grabbed this at the library -- although I don't remember where I heard about it -- and was a little nervous that a couple of the things you mention (especially the futuristic urban grit thing) would make it not a great read for me. So, yay!


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