Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Rebel Seoul

Rebel Seoul

Axie Oh
For ages 13 and up
Lee and Low, 2017   ISBN: 978-1620142998

Lee Jaewon is not who he pretends to be. He is an orphan who started living on the streets when he was eight and who joined a gang to survive, which he then left when he was sixteen. What the authorities don’t know is that Jaewon’s father was a rebel who fought against the government, and who died for the cause he believed in. Jaewon sincerely hopes that they never find out about his dubious past. His ambition is to work for the government as a soldier so that he can have a future in Neo Seoul.

Many years ago the leaders of several Asian countries decided that the only way to get rid of wars was to do away with nations altogether for “Without nationhood, there is no war.” Thus each country became a state, and each state had a representative who sat on the Council of the Neo Alliance. Then the state of South China decided to secede. North and South China went to war and the rest of the alliance states were pulled into the conflict.

After five decades of war and hundreds of millions of deaths, people are tired. In the Neo State of Korea (NSK) the discrepancy between the haves and have nots is enormous, particularly in what was once the city of Seoul. Now the city is divided, with the rich and connected people living under the dome of Neo Seoul, and the rest of the citizens live in Old Seoul.

Jaewon has worked hard and so, after passing the simulation test set by the government, he is given a job working on the Amaterasu Project. The purpose of the project is to build “the world’s greatest weapon.” Some years ago chemicals called Enhancers were given to soldiers in an effort to make them stronger and more skilled. The experiments were a failure. So, scientists decided to try to incorporate some of the Enhancements into the genomes of very young children. After many setbacks, the scientists have successfully produced two Enhanced humans who are called Ama and Tera. Jaewon’s job is to do his best to monitor, take care of, and support one of these weaponized humans as her primary supervisor.

Tera’s Enhanced abilities make her incredible strong and fast. She also heals quickly and knows a great deal about battle strategies. She is perfectly suited to pilot the most cutting edge God Machine there is. God Machines look like enormous robots and their pilots sit inside them and use weapons to attack the enemy. The hope is that God Machines that are piloted by Enhanced Humans will be able to bring the rebels to their knees once and for all. The rebels feel that people of Korea will be better off if the Neo State of Korea is dissolved and the old nation is brought back. Naturally the leaders of NSK want to keep their positions and their power, and so they are determined to crush the rebels.

When Jaewon first starts working, he is eager to do everything he can to earn the favor of his bosses. However, as time goes by he begins to realize how truly morally corrupt the leadership of the NSK is. Suddenly the situations he faces are no longer black and white, and he has to decide what matters most to him. Maybe, just maybe, his father, who chose to fight for the rebels, was right after all.

This excellent book looks at the ways in which war can utterly corrupt the inner workings of a country to the point that the people and their needs are completely forgotten. It is fascinating to see how Jaewon changes as the story unfolds, and how he comes to understand that being a passive bystander is not always the right thing to do. Sometimes you have to defend what you believe in and seek out the freedom that you lack.