By Samantha Pak
Northwest Asian Weekly
By Zoe Hana Mikuta
Feiwel & Friends, 2021
In Godolia, tyranny runs rampant, thanks to the giant mechanized weapons, known as Windups, aiding the rulers. And for the people of the Badlands, life under their Godolia overlord brings war and oppression every day.
Enter Eris Shindanai, a brash young rebel and Gearbreaker, specializing in taking down Windups from the inside. When things go wrong on a mission and Eris ends up captured, she meets Sona Steelcrest, a cybernetically enhanced Windup pilot.
Naturally, Eris sees Sona as the enemy, but she quickly learns that the other young woman has the same goal as her—to destroy Godolia. And like Eris, Sona is working from the inside.
Once Sona gains Eris’ trust, the pair make their escape and Sona joins the cause against Godolia. And as the two work together and prepare for their deadliest mission yet—alongside Eris’ team and other Gearbreakers—the pair grows closer, first as comrades in arms, then friends and eventually, something more.
There are all sorts of villains in stories, motivated by any number of reasons—some might even seem justified. But here, the baddies’ evil acts seem to be motivated by the need for power. Power for the sake of power. So, it was great to see Eris, Sona, and the rest of the Gearbreakers standing up and fighting against the ones who rule them. I love a good underdog story and the Gearbreakers are the ultimate underdogs, fighting against oppressors who literally built deities to keep them down.
Stories about dystopian worlds, where young people are somehow tasked with saving everyone (where are all the reasonable adults?), are not uncommon. And “Gearbreakers” is just that. But what sets it apart is that at the center of all the action are two queer young women of color—something we rarely see—doing all the saving. Mikuta doesn’t treat Eris’ and Sona’s sexualities as a big deal (because they’re not), but for readers out there who might be questioning those parts of themselves, it might well be a big deal to see someone like them saving the day.
By Jane Pek
Claudia Lin is used to disappointing her family. She’s got no desire for the typical, nine-to-five career or to meet a nice Chinese boy. She’s also used to keeping things from them. For example, she actually prefers girls. Also, she was recruited by and works for Veracity, a referrals-only online-dating detective agency focused on verifying people’s online lives and lies.
As a lifelong mystery reader and Jane Austen fan, Claudia thinks she’s landed her ideal job. But then a client—who seemingly had an agenda beyond figuring out her online matches’ lies—vanishes and ends up dead under suspicious circumstances (at least to Claudia). So Claudia breaks protocol to investigate the matter. What she uncovers is a web of lies and deceit on the personal and corporate levels.
As a fellow book nerd, I greatly appreciated the meta nature of how Claudia went about trying to solve the mystery. I also loved how she was slightly judgmental toward others’ reading choices—because that is something I can relate to.
“Verifiers” is a mystery, wrapped in an immigrant family story, inside a deep-dive examination of how technology shapes our lives. When a story has multiple plot lines, it can be easy for one subplot to catch my interest more than others. But Pek does a great job of balancing all the elements of her story and having readers wanting to know more about each of them—whether it’s trying to guess the culprit or waiting to see the latest Lin family drama.
Pek’s details about technology and how big corporations use the information we so freely provide for them will have you thinking twice about how you spend your life online. While some of it seems a bit out there, I also wouldn’t be surprised to learn that it’s already happening (not disturbing, at all). Also, I don’t know if this was Pek’s intention, but I’ve never used online dating sites or apps, and after reading “Verifiers,” I don’t think I ever will.
A Clash of Steel: A Treasure Island Remix
By C. B. Lee
Feiwel & Friends, 2021
The year is 1826 and the sun is setting on the golden age of piracy. The Dragon Fleet, scourge of the South China Sea—and its ruthless leader, a woman only known as the Head of the Dragon—are nothing more than stories 16-year-old Xiang has grown up with her entire life. But when she learns about the Head of the Dragon’s treasure and discovers a piece of a map possibly leading to said treasure, found inside the pendant of a necklace gifted to her by her late father, Xiang sees it as the chance to prove herself to her shrewd business-woman mother.
So Xiang joins Anh, the 17-year-old girl who stole the necklace and actually revealed the pendant’s true nature, and her motley crew in search of the treasure—with the promise to help decode the clue left behind by Xiang’s father. But both girls quickly learn that the sea, especially the ones who sail it, are much more dangerous than stories and legends have led them to believe.
In this remix of the classic tale “Treasure Island,” Lee takes us to Asia—from China to Vietnam—and gives us a story as swashbuckling and adventurous as any pirate story. Prior to reading “Steel,” I wasn’t too familiar with the original story, but I’ll admit, I’m definitely curious now.
Xiang, though naive and sheltered, is a strong young woman who wants nothing more than to be able to choose how to live her life—from what she wants to do, to who she loves. Seeing her come into her own and learn to stand up for herself is great to see. And Anh complements Xiang’s naivety with a worldliness that comes from a life at sea. As the two become close, we see how their feelings become more—showing readers how friendship can serve as a foundation for love.
Samantha can be reached at email@example.com.