Don't Forgive the Good Guys - A ‘Rebel Seoul’ Essay + Mini Review

Friday, February 9, 2018
Don't Forgive the Good Guys

Warning: this post has very, very slight Rebel Seoul spoilers, so proceed with caution. However, no major plot points are discussed, so, in my opinion, enjoyment shouldn't be severely affected.

In Axie Oh's Rebel Seoul, the main character's father is, by definition, a suicide bomber.

He died while bombing a government facility when his son, Jaewon, was still very young. His actions and my reaction to them plagued me for days after and caused an interesting question I'd previously pondered to resurface.

This is a good moment to point out that all the opinions and ideas I bring up here are in no way endorsed by Axie Oh, these are just some of the thoughts and revelations I had while reading Rebel Seoul.

Anton Strogonoff / Unsplash

I've always considered suicide bombing to be an unforgivable act.

These people kill indiscriminately, stealing the lives of countless innocent people all in hopes of spreading their message, and no message is worth such senseless slaughter, right?

But when I discovered how and why Jaewon's father died, I felt sympathy, not only for the abandoned son, but also for the dead father.

This reaction of mine both repulsed and intrigued me. Here was something I found so morally wrong, and yet, when done by a character whose cause I both understood and rooted for, I was ready to understand and perhaps even justify.

It shouldn't matter how "good" someone's cause is and it shouldn't matter if they're fighting a clear evil (as the father was), an unforgivable act remains an unforgivable act. But in my initial reaction it did matter.

Jakub Kapusnak / Unsplash
Picture of Korean food

We tend to hold our fictional heroes and villains to different standards,

and often, it seems that villains get the shorter end of the stick oddly enough. When an villain does something a bit morally ambiguous, like say: hold a hero hostage so they can guarantee their own safe escape, it's so easy to label it as an underhanded and dirty tactic. But when a hero does it, like in Avatar: the Last Airbender's Season 3's (view Avatar: The Last Airbender spoiler)escape from Boiling Rock, it's equally easy to justify it. After all, they had no other choice, right? The ends justify the means, am I right?

This line of thinking bothers me a lot, because, in the end, doesn't everyone fancy themselves the hero, and can't anyone believe that their cause is worth it?

Sometimes I feel like we give our heroes and those we share beliefs with too much leeway, we ignore their flaws and only see their positive attributes, but when those very same flaws appear in our enemies, we are so much more willing to condemn them. However, by being more aware of our biases, and by more closely questioning how they influence our reactions, we can perhaps be fairer. After all, people—even the most appalling and abhorrent—are really only made villains through perspective.

I received an arc from the publisher for review consideration (thanks Tu Books!) this in no way affected my review, cross my heart.

Rebel Seoul by Axie Oh Mini Review

( / Amazon & Goodreads & Book Depository)

Rebel Seoul Cover Snip

Synopsis & Details: After a great war, the East Pacific is in ruins. In brutal Neo Seoul, where status comes from success in combat, ex-gang member Lee Jaewon is a talented pilot rising in the ranks of the academy. Abandoned as a kid in the slums of Old Seoul by his rebel father, read more... Jaewon desires only to escape his past and prove himself a loyal soldier of the Neo State.

When Jaewon is recruited into the most lucrative weapons development division in Neo Seoul, he is eager to claim his best shot at military glory. But the mission becomes more complicated when he meets Tera, a test subject in the government’s supersoldier project. Tera was trained for one purpose: to pilot one of the lethal God Machines, massive robots for a never-ending war.

With secret orders to report on Tera, Jaewon becomes Tera’s partner, earning her reluctant respect. But as respect turns to love, Jaewon begins to question his loyalty to an oppressive regime that creates weapons out of humans. As the project prepares to go public amidst rumors of a rebellion, Jaewon must decide where he stands—as a soldier of the Neo State, or a rebel of the people.

Pacific Rim meets Korean action dramas in this mind-blowing, New Visions Award-winning science fiction debut.

Title: Rebel Seoul
Series: N/A
Author: Axie Oh
Publication Date: September 14th 2017
Genres: Sci-Fi, Young Adult

Romance and me don't get along, that my friend is an indisputable fact.

I just can't stand the annoyance and the utter frustration of two people who are quite obviously in love but are blind idiots and can't freaking KISS ALREADY (as you can see, I have quite strong feelings on this matter). But crazily enough, I absolutely adored the romantic relationship between Jaewon and Tera. It just worked for me. I don't know why, but it did. Maybe they just have real f*cking good on-page chemistry.

The tech and specifically the giant mechs in this world were also really cool!

Honestly, this book would make such a superb film because it has such an interesting and entrancing setting. Though oddly enough, the world also ended up feeling a tad flat at times, but I think this was more of a me issue. Whenever there isn't in-depth world backstory, I tend to feel like the world-building is a little shallow, but with Rebel Seoul being only a book long, there isn't much room for that sort of stuff. And to be completely honest, if Oh had tried to include it, it'd probably feel stuffed in due to the book's short length.

Brady Bellini / Unsplash

Jaewon is a bit of a "reluctant rebel", which is honestly one of my favorite tropes in dystopian novels.

This reluctance comes from the fact that his father's involvement with rebels eventually resulted in his death, which left Jaewon with a complex and complicated attitude towards the rebels and their cause. This lends him a unique perspective on the conflict and creates some very intriguing internal discord.

What are your thoughts on this issue? Should the "good guys" have some leeway?