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…
I was provided an eARC from the publicist in exchange for an honest review.
Gearbreakers by Zoe Hana Mikuta was one of my most anticipated books of 2021. Give me a story about mecha god-like machines that shake the earth, angry queer girls, and enemies-to-lovers, and I will probably be first in line to read it. Though Gearbreakers was not quite what I expected, I ultimately enjoyed this action-packed story, primarily for its unexpectedly compelling and evocative themes.
The story follows two girls – Sona and Eris. Sona is a cybernetically-enhanced soldier, trained to pilot giant mecha weapons called Windups. Though trained by the tyrannical nation of Godolia, Sona harbours a secret: she has infiltrated the Godolia Windup academy to destroy it from within. Eris, the other narrator in the story, is a Gearbreaker. Living on the outskirts of Godolia, Eris is part of a resistance and specialises on taking down the giant Windups that terrorise the free Badlands.
Let’s talk writing, because I think this is going to be discussed at length when this book releases in the mid-year. This book does have a shaky start. Though burning with emotion and intensity, the prose is cluttered, the adjectives excessive, the mythos a little confusing, and it is ultimately challenging to read. I found myself having to re-read certain passages because it was difficult to understand the actions taking place in the narrative, especially during Sona’s chapters. I’m stubborn though, so I kept reading, hoping that the writing would get better.
Thankfully, the writing did get better – significantly. At around the 20% mark, the story starts to shed the superfluous descriptions and Zoe starts telling a good story – and wow, can Zoe tell a good story. Whether the writing style in the first 20% was intended to be atmospheric or indicative of Sona’s anger and angst, I don’t know. But, what I can say is that the messiness of the first chapters are not indicative of the writing style in the rest of the book. In fact, the writing is fantastic and riveting, sharp and violent not like a whetted dagger but a serrated blade. Admittedly, Gearbreakers has a challenging start, one that may turn off some readers, but is the story that follows worth sticking around for? I think: yes; give this book a chance and you might actually have a great time.
What pulled and pushed me through the story was the two wonderful protagonists, Sona and Eris. Both are these fanged, angry girls who are made of fight and danger and a stubborn will to survive. Though I loved Eris as a character, loved the way she steadily falls for Sona and fights for those she loves, Sona was such a phenomenal character who I enjoyed following and I loved how her character development explores identity in a way that we only really see in science-fiction. Made and remade into the image of the people that she swore to destroy, her character reminded me of Motoko Kusanagi from Ghost in the Shell (and I say this as high praise), wherein her identity is constant flux across the story. Sona’s character arc was thoughtful and gripping, and I enjoyed the in-depth portrayal of the emotional conflicts of being a living weapon.
Gearbreakers was also surprisingly thematic – and the themes explored in this were compelling. As you may expect, Gearbreakers is an action-packed story filled with brutal fights and surviving a ruthless world. Underneath that, underneath the action and the edginess, Gearbreakers is also a profound and bittersweet story about teens and children caught in the crossfire of a senseless war. Set in a world where peace does not exist, where the monsters are mechas made to be like gods, mere children have to swallow their fear and harden themselves to a world and future where they are primed, trained, and prepared to kill and die.
Throw on top of the fact that Gearbreakers follow two queer teens – Sona is lesbian and Eris is bisexual/pansexual – and we have a fiery story about two girls who find something to live for, rather than to die for, in a time of war. I loved how the story builds up this profoundly desolate world where surviving is done by the skin of your teeth and graze of a bullet, and then we just get this… tenderness, where two girls find a home in each other. The romance in this is slow-burn; it’s unlike any romance I have read before, in that it is so deeply passionate and incendiary without physical intimacy. Rather, the intensity of their romance is how fiercely they will protect and fight for the other – and I loved that so much.
In addition to Sona and Eris, we also have Eris’s Gearbreaker crew. The found family in this was wonderful – a group of kids who goof off, act silly, play with each other, and when they aren’t doing that, are killing or trying not to get killed. I found myself shaking my head while reading, muttering to myself, “they’re just kids.” I felt heartbroken, sad – and loved that the story evoked these feelings. Though some of the crew aren’t particularly memorable, the overall found family dynamic enriched the atmosphere: that, in a world where bonds are made scarce by the desperation to survive, nothing matters more than the people that you love.
MY CONCLUSION: RECOMMENDED
Though Gearbreakers has an unsteady start, the story finds its momentum and fires off with its fight, viciousness, and violence to make it an entertaining and compelling read. This looks like it will be the start of a series (whether it will be a duology or trilogy, I don’t know), and I genuinely look forward to reading whatever comes next. The emotional moments are this story’s greatest strengths, and I would certainly love to see Zoe write more angry girls who are feral, dangerous, and, very rarely, soft.
Is this book for you?
Premise in a sentence: Two girls on opposite sides of the war find common purpose, and work together to take down the tyrannical mecha soldiers called Windups and the nation controlling them.
Perfect for: readers looking for an action-packed story; readers who enjoy mecha stories; readers who like dark, atmospheric stories; readers looking for an enemies-to-friends-to-lovers queer romance
Think twice if: you’re not looking for a dark, edgy story.
Genre: young adult science-fiction dystopia
Trigger/content warning: death of loved ones, physical and graphic violence, torture, multiple blood mentions, graphic deaths.