By Foreword Reviews
Rebel Seoul, by Axie Oh, is a young-adult adventure that finds teens and robotic technology engaged in a never-ending war. The story effortlessly blends elements of science fiction, romance, and drama. In the future, an oppressive regime has taken control of Korea. There, Lee Jaewon rises through the ranks of the military academy and catches the eye of a secretive-weapons division. That division uses orphans as supersoldiers to fight in a nearly half-century-long war. Hoping to earn his place and to distance himself from a dark past, Jaewon eagerly accepts an assignment to partner up with one of the supersoldiers, Tera. As teenagers often do, Tera and Jaewon become swept up in a tumultuous relationship. Between fighting off rebels and piloting gigantic robots, Jaewon is forced to choose a side and risk losing not only his love, his friends, and his family, but his own place in a brutal new world. Strong world building hinges on the thundering action of robots piloted by teenagers. The story quickly transcends even that premise with its superbly nuanced characters. From the blossoming romance between Jaewon and Tera, to the brothers-in-arms dynamic with fellow soldiers, to the strained father-son bond Jaewon shares with the local gang warlord, Rebel Seoul holds a magnifying glass to issues like difficulty connecting with others, and to the weight of pain on the human psyche. Despite some heavy concepts, warmth and humor connect all the characters. Tera is owned and controlled by the government, but the scientist in charge treats her as a beloved grandfather might, even risking his life and career to help in a pivotal moment. After a particularly risky maneuver, Tera berates Jaewon, and his lighthearted retort highlights their bond. Rebel Seoul is an example of what young-adult literature should be: an engaging story that explores other points of view. Most importantly, the story never dumbs anything down or sugarcoats difficult truths. The intended audience is definitely teens, but everyone can enjoy the blockbuster action and heartwarming drama of Oh’s novel.