A blend of Attack on Titan and Pacific Rim, Zoe Hana Mikuta‘s YA w|w cyberpunk novel, Gearbreakers, definitely caught my attention. It’s a pleasure to join the blog tour for Zoe’s debut novel!
Warm thanks to Colored Pages, Feiwel & Friends /Macmillan and Fierce Reads for providing the arc for review.
Be sure to check out the tour schedule to read what all the other awesome bloggers have to say!
At a glance
Two girls on opposite sides of a war discover they’re fighting for a common purpose–and falling for each other–in Zoe Hana Mikuta’s high-octane debut Gearbreakers, perfect for fans of Pacific Rim, Pierce Brown’s Red Rising Saga, and Marie Lu’s Legend series.
We went past praying to deities and started to build them instead…
The shadow of Godolia’s tyrannical rule is spreading, aided by their giant mechanized weapons known as Windups. War and oppression are everyday constants for the people of the Badlands, who live under the thumb of their cruel Godolia overlords.
Eris Shindanai is a Gearbreaker, a brash young rebel who specializes in taking down Windups from the inside. When one of her missions goes awry and she finds herself in a Godolia prison, Eris meets Sona Steelcrest, a cybernetically enhanced Windup pilot. At first Eris sees Sona as her mortal enemy, but Sona has a secret: She has intentionally infiltrated the Windup program to destroy Godolia from within.
As the clock ticks down to their deadliest mission yet, a direct attack to end Godolia’s reign once and for all, Eris and Sona grow closer–as comrades, friends, and perhaps something more…
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Dystopia is one of YA science-fiction’s most coveted subgenres, tracing its ascension as far back as The Giver (Lois Lowry, 1993), and perhaps even further to classics.
Although its modern spark certainly caught fire with The Hunger Games, other authors have since expanded the blaze; in War Girls (2019), Tochi Onyebuchi explores the consequences of climate change and nuclear disaster on a war-torn Nigeria. In We Set the Dark on Fire (2019), Tehlor Kay Meija assesses gender roles and themes of immigration. And in Zoe Hana Mikuta’s debut cyberpunk novel, a cybernetic teenager becomes the weapon of a technologically-advanced empire to reclaim the power to end it.
Gearbreakers begins as a revenge quest in a military academy of the privileged, as Bellsona Steelcrest pilots one of Gondolia’s warmongering mecha, called Windups. Sona’s vow to shift the scales of power jumpstarts the novel, but as she meets a Gearbreaker, one of the rebels hindering the totalitarian regime, the book quickly builds on the foundations of its genre to deliver a dark and heartfelt exploration of humanity, loss, and hope.
Heavily built on relationships, it leans on character dynamics more often than not, and each arc seems to touch on accepting the broken parts within yourself, even when what rests between the cracks is mostly fury.
The action sequences, if a little far-fetched, are plenty, and though they often repeat themselves, the thrilling grand-scale battles where giant mecha savagely annihilate one another are vivid as fuck; I couldn’t get enough of those. Eris Shindanai and her ragtag crew of Gearbreaker loose canons add wonderful dimensions of found family and queer/sapphic relationships.
It initially builds interesting parts of the worldbuilding that don’t get further explored, such as the religious worship of the Windups. Deviating attention from the oppressor’s symbols of power is likely intentional (and a choice I respect), but it would have been immersive to observe them firsthand. Given little of Godolia’s political and internal structure, the tension coming from experiencing the worldbuilding deflates a bit, but it’s within Mikuta’s beautiful writing and her character work that it rises.
A story about rummaging through the rubble of your anger to build something new and alive, Gearbreakers is an exciting addition to the genre and a book I was glad to devour.
TWs/CWs: torture, cutting, death, graphic violence.
Gearbreakers in 4 Anime
Attack on Titan
Our final words will be of fury and hatred and the defiance they believe to be extinct.
I know, I know, you’re all holding your breaths in shock. Well, I’m nothing if not predictable. Definitely the opposite of the two main characters in Gearbreakers, Bellsona Steelcrest and Eris Shindanai, and that’s just one of the elements the book and Shingeki no Kyojin have in common. Two spitfires for main characters, a burning thirst for revenge, and gargantuan manifestations of oppression. While AoT deals in fleshy giants that eat people, Gearbreakers achieves the same ominous, dreary effect with its Windups, gigantic mecha piloted by cyborg soldiers, who stalk the secluded forests wherein hides a rebellion for a chance to spread bloodshed. Much like the anime, Gearbreakers builds on its character dynamics between a ragtag group of loose canon teenagers to forge a found family bound together by loss, love, and fury.
Neon Genesis Evangelion
It is a completely new scale of destruction, when people find divinity in bloodshed.
When divinity calls for bloodshed, how can humanity survive? Evangelion made it to the list less due to any plot resemblance; after all, the Eva are so-so the heroes here so it seems more like a reverse Gearbreakers than anything else. Yet several shared elements which compose the backbone of the book made this anime one not to miss on this list: deep character work through exploration of the psyche, residual religious themes, questions of humanity, and fantastic and evocative battle dynamics.
Ghost in the Shell
They have not given me power; they gave me the ability to come undone.
You probably expected these first 3, and that’s likely because, though Gearbreakers brings to YA science-fiction a creative exceptionality, the similarities are irrevocably noticeable. Like Gearbreakers, Ghost in the Shell deals in questions of displacement, corruption, identity, and what it means to be human when your body is a cybernetic ship of Theseus. Moments when Bellsona struggles with her identity bring to mind Mokoto’s own questionings and her interactions with other cyborgs. These moments are like shrapnel to the heart, lodged there by Mikuta’s sharpshooter aim with words. Likewise, the dark, almost gothic-like atmosphere of cyberpunk tethers both of them together.
Because you choose sides in a war and I chose the one that makes me feel human, and this I will not apologize for.
I first knew of 86 through its light novel and I definitely recommend giving it a go. Although rooted in themes of war, much like Gearbreakers, it spotlights the growing relationships between the people ravaged by imperialism. In 86, drone pilots are forced to work for a warmongering republic, stripped of their humanity and rights, a similar situation to the people of the Badlands, whose labour feeds the lavish lifestyle of the people of Godolia. While Lena (86’s main protagonist) shares skill and disposition with our Gearbreaker protagonists, its the growing bonds between the group, the underlying politics explored through the deepfelt character dynamics, and a beautifully-written novel that leaves its mark are certainly aspects shared by both stories.
Info: Quotes from the arc may change upon publication.
About the author
Twenty-year-old Zoe Hana Mikuta is a Korean-American writer currently attending the University of Washington in Seattle, majoring in English with a creative writing focus and minoring in History of Religion. She grew up in Boulder, Colorado, where she developed a deep love of Muay Thai kickboxing and nurtured a slow and steady infatuation for fictional worlds. She enjoys writing deteriorating worlds inhabited by characters with bad tempers, skewed morals, and big hearts. Her YA wlw sci-fi debut, GEARBREAKERS, is upcoming from Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan Publishers June 29th, 2021, with an untitled sequel to follow summer 2022. When she needs to unwind, Zoe sews runes onto the belt loops of her jeans and embroiders ‘Bite Me’ on the back pockets. She hopes if she feeds the crows around her campus enough croutons, they’ll begin to gift her quarters, so she can say her laundry is bird-funded.
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