This dystopia is unlike any I have ever read before. Not only does Rebel Seoul deal with important issues of politics as well as social justice, but it also has a fantastic exploration of the themes of humanity. All of this is grounded in a world full of detail and color with characters that you would defend till the end.
Lee Jaewon’s primary goal of high school is to receive a placement in the military and escape the slums of Old Seoul. After a series of risks and danger, Jaewon is placed in one of the most elite weapons development divisions in New Seoul. But nothing seems like it should, when Jaewon’s primary mission seems to be to monitor Tera, a test subject in the government’s secret super soldier project. Soon things start clicking into place and Jaewoon realizes that more is at stake than he first suspected, not only his job, and his heart, but also his country.
So Rebel Seoul is one of those reviews where I will have major trouble keeping my flailing emotions in check. This book hit me from every angle: compelling characters, amazing world building, fantastic writing, and a complex exploration of themes. My bottom line, even at the beginning of this review, will be: READ THIS.
Setting & World Building
The setting of Rebel Seoul is rich, detailed, and evocative. From the foods, to the scenery, to the subtle touches, everything about this world is immersive. Paired with this lush world, are Oh’s world building skills. I am no fierce follower of politics, but Oh makes the politics of this world both easy enough for me to understand, and complex enough to be incredibly realistic. There are real questions of statehood, of peace, and ‘the ends justify the means’ mentality. Oh’s book delves into the world of privilege, status, and science to deliver you a multi-dimensional setting that you can almost touch.
Characters can be a difficult thing to write, but not for Oh. It is so difficult to pick my favorite, because they all seem so lifelilke. There is a genuine mystery behind each of them, and some that are not uncovered even in the book. I love the humanity within: their ability to make mistakes, to be incredibly stupid, and entirely lovable. Through the intricate plot, their pasts are revealed to us and they unfold before us like a flower, until you’re like me and left with this overall sensation of loving each of them. I love Tera’s vulnerability – her ‘tough’ attitude and Ama’s love for life. I love Alex’s honor and Young’s compassion. And I love Jaewon’s respectful attitude and kind soul. And the promise of the sequel leaves you hanging for more.
But the trifecta of Oh’s writing combines all three of these elements: setting, world building, and characters, together to deliver a knockout – especially in the book’s themes. There were multitudes of passages that were both poignant and elegantly written. My book is littered with highlights that range from beautiful writing, to moments that resonate deeply with our concept of what it means to be human. Where Oh transforms this novel from just a thrilling story to one that is moving, is how Oh navigates the discussion about humanity and weapons.
In a world that weaponizes its citizens, with mandatory military service, where does the line between humanity and weapons lie? How do we maintain one with the other? Can we have a moral machine? Does our love make us human? Is there a difference between the gun and the person holding it? All of these questions and more are cleverly interwoven through a variety of different characters and events in a brilliant way. I can’t even begin discussing it because I will never stop and I am constantly amazed by the creativity and the depth of the themes within these pages.
(I also wanted to mention that the ending is entirely meaningful considering our current state of the world. With a world that is focusing on differences, on the necessity of violence, Rebel Seoul becomes even more worth reading. I know that is super vague, but I cannot elaborate without ruining the ending and I absolutely will not do that).
There’s more than meets the eyes of Rebel Seoul. While the cover is absolutely gorgeous, it doesn’t seem like it can possibly contain all of the awesomeness and emotions that I was feeling through the entire book (and my tears on the train). With every page, this book just got better and better until it culminates in a bright explosion of color, emotions, and lingering thoughts that will stay with you. Rebel Seoul is breathtaking – it takes you on a roller coaster of emotions from moments of tenderness, to heartbreak, with everything in between. If you enjoy books that question humanity, have characters that you can connect with, or are itching for a new dystopia, I urge you to pick this up.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review from Edelweiss.
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