Jason Zhou, his friends, and Daiyu are still recovering from the aftermath of bombing Jin Corp headquarters. But Jin, the ruthless billionaire and Daiyu’s father, is out for blood. When Lingyi goes to Shanghai to help Jany Tsai, a childhood acquaintance in trouble, she doesn’t expect Jin to be involved. And when Jin has Jany murdered and steals the tech she had refused to sell him, Lingyi is the only one who has access to the encrypted info, putting her own life in jeopardy.
Zhou doesn’t hesitate to fly to China to help Iris find Lingyi, even though he’s been estranged from his friends for months. But when Iris tells him he can’t tell Daiyu or trust her, he balks. The reunited group play a treacherous cat and mouse game in the labyrinthine streets of Shanghai, determined on taking back what Jin had stolen.
When Daiyu appears in Shanghai, Zhou is uncertain if it’s to confront him or in support of her father. Jin has proudly announced Daiyu will be by his side for the opening ceremony of Jin Tower, his first “vertical city.” And as hard as Zhou and his friends fight, Jin always gains the upper hand. Is this a game they can survive, much less win?
Note: The following review contains minor spoilers to the first book of the duology, Want.
I can’t believe it’s been two years since Want, one of my favourite books of 2017, and it was absolutely worth the wait. Ruse by Cindy Pon is the sequel to Want, a YA science-fiction set in futuristic Taipei about taking down corruption corporations and tackling environmental issues before they are too late. Now in Shanghai, China, Ruse follows Jason Zhou and the gang as they work together once more to pull off another heist.
About consequences and the prices we pay
Following the events of the first book, a major focus of Ruse is how the characters navigate through the traumas that they experienced in Want. The story examines how people continue to live with the prices that they have paid for their actions. Told from several perspectives from our favourite characters, Ruse explores the consequences of your actions, no matter their greatness, bravery, and importance. Indeed, the gang continuously wrestle with their chances, and the consequences, of their success versus their failure. How far are they willing to go to stop evil, and at what cost? What price are they willing to pay, if the price may be their friends’ lives, when all they have is each other?
I found this particularly fitting for the story in Ruse and I liked the approach Pon took to develop her characters. Often when we think of heroes, we think about their singular great action or their paths of justice, but we often don’t see the effect such acts may have on them. Although I think the characters in Ruse would never call themselves heroes, Ruse presents a group of very human, very vulnerable teens with the ability, will and power, however small, to change things and to make things better. And I think that’s why I love Want and Ruse so much – it’s a humanising story about teens who can make the world a better place, but not without grappling with the costs and consequences of their actions.
A meaningful examination of resistance – and how it is slow but necessary
One of the things that I really loved about Want was its strong thematic focus on inequality, classism, and corruption. Though Ruse still offers some socio-political discourse by extending the discourse found in Want, I enjoyed Ruse’s candid and real portrayal of how slow and deceptively hopeless resistance can appear to be at first. After finishing Want, the victory was hard-won but worth it, and it felt like their story could have ended. They stopped injustice. Things seemed hopeful.
Ruse, however, challenges this false sense of safety and security, and portrays the pervasiveness and persistence of corruption and greed. Although Jin, the villain of both Want and Ruse, is pushed out of Taipei, the heads of the hydra resurface in Shanghai, with Jin returning to his ruthless and cunning ways. Thus, not only does Ruse explore the spread of corruption and how it is afforded to and bought by the wealthy, Ruse also examines how the characters are confronted with how seemingly insignificant their actions had on making any sort of change. Though confronting, and tough to face, Ruse ultimately shows that solidarity, persistence, and fighting for good despite the challenges are necessary and vital to ensuring that change does happen.
A sequel for those who loved the characters
If you go into Ruse expecting thematic discourse as powerful and effecting as Want, you may come out the other side feeling a little disappointed. Despite the meaningful themes in Ruse, the true highlight of this book is its characters – their developments, their interactions with each other, seeing the puzzle pieces of their roles come together to pull off another heist. Moreover, we see them grow and come to terms with how important they all mean to each other, despite the rifts that may separate them from time to time. However, not only do the characters succeed, they also fumble, feel powerless, and feel vulnerable and uncertain of themselves, therefore allowing room for the characters’ growth across the story – developments that I really enjoyed.
Relationships between the characters also get more development. We see more of Iris and Lingyi, and I adored them. I adored Lingyi, who is soft and fashionable and fights with her intellect and hacking, and loved that she contrasted Iris, who is edgy, practical, and fights with her heart and fists. In addition, we also see more development of Jason and Daiyu, Jason’s love interest from Want and daughter of the villain, and how both characters navigate through the pulls of duty and threat of betrayal, and the implications these doubts have on their relationship and the success of Jason’s mission.
MY CONCLUSION: RECOMMENDED
Though this may not be the sequel that everyone wants or expects, Ruse was definitely a solid sequel, has an extremely satisfying ending, and was a story that I loved and appreciated. It was such a pleasure to see my subversive children again, seeing them work together to take down corporate evil. All in all, Want and Ruse make up a strong and solid duology, and I cannot wait to see what Pon writes next.
Is this book for you?
Premise in a sentence: A group of teens work together to bring down a corrupt businessman.
Perfect for: People who loved the characters from the first book, Want; people who enjoy book with a futuristic setting; people who enjoy discourse on corruption and power.
Think twice if: You weren’t a fan of the first book, Want.
Genre: young adult, science-fiction.
Trigger/content warning: murder, blood mentions, graphic violence, kidnapping, death of children (off-text), death by illness, parental emotional manipulation.
I’m sad that this duology is now over, and I’m going to miss Jason and the gang, but I’m also content with its ending. As I said before, I can’t wait to see what Pon is going to write next. To be honest, I’ll read anything that she writes.
- Have you read Want or Ruse? What did you think of it?
- Do you have any recommendations for SFF written by Asian authors?
- Do you have any recommendations for SFF with strong social/political messages or themes?