Rebel Skies by Ann Sei Lin

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Rebel Skies by Ann Sei Lin

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Category: Teens
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Alex Mitchell
Reviewed by Alex Mitchell
Summary: Lin's debut novel does an excellent job creating an interesting Asian-inspired fantasy world, with well-written characters, a creative magic system and plenty of funny and touching moments to balance out its darker moments.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 352 Date: May 2022
Publisher: Walker Books
ISBN: 978-1406399592

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Kurara has spent her entire life as a servant on the Midori, a massive dining hall floating in the sky where soldiers of the Empire come to drink and make merry between their conquests. However, when a man named Himura arrives to tell her that she is a Crafter like him, someone with the power to form paper into whatever she desires – a power sought after all across the Empire. He asks her to come with him, to leave the life of dreary servitude that is all she has known. Well, soon Kurara won't have any say in the matter, because the Midori is destroyed by a monstrous paper spirit known as a shikigami, and she is forced to flee out into the world. She joins Himura aboard the Orihime, a sky-ship whose express purpose is to hunt down shikigami, and a whole world of adventure awaits her…

This is Lin's debut novel, and I have to say she's done a really good job with it. The characters are likeable, the world is well built, and while it does get dark, there are some funny and heart-warming moments in there to balance it out. It is going to be the first book in a trilogy, and, if those books are as good as this one, then I'm excited to see where the author takes the series.

The setting takes a lot of inspiration from Asian culture and mythology (specifically Japanese). The Empire takes a lot of inspiration from Imperial Japan and the Sorabito also have a strong Japanese influence (their name literally means 'Sky People'), but also have their own unique beliefs and traditions. The Empire sees the Sorabito as lesser beings, and Imperial warships will often harass Sorabito ships out of sheer boredom, and there is an organised resistance group called Sohma that wishes for the Sorabito's independence. The interludes also begin with small passages from in-universe songs, books and religious texts, which provides an even greater insight into the cultures and philosophies of the Empire and the Sorabito. Overall, I really like the setting and would be interested to learn more about it.

The story is told from the points of view of three characters, each of which offer their own perspectives on the world. The first of these is Kurara, who is rapidly adjusting to life outside of the and getting used to her powers as a Crafter – her journey throughout the story revolves around her journeying to Princess Tsukimi, one of the heirs to the Imperial throne, and impress her enough to consider reviving her friend Haru, a humanoid shikigami. Given the reveals of Kurara's nature later on in the story, it helps to get across how horrible the Empire's treatment of the shikigami is. We also have Himura, a Crafter employed by the Orihime who is desperate to find out more about his people, to the point that he is willing to bargain with Princess Tsukimi for access to her collection of prohibited Crafter literature. He is a more hardened and cynical person than Kurara. There are also interludes woven throughout the story, which are told from the point of view of Rei, a member of the resistance movement against the Empire, and a thoroughly unpleasant person who mostly spends his time railing against his co-conspirators and how much he resents not being in control. There are other characters in the story, ranging from the crew of the Orihime to Rei's co-conspirators. My personal favourites were Tomoe, the Orihime's cheerful and perky engineer, and Sayo, the grumpy and argumentative navigator, and the chemistry between the two of them was made for enjoyable reading. I hope to follow the rest of the series, if only to see more of these two (and find out if they end up together).

The magic system in the book is actually pretty unique. Firstly, there's levistone, a substance that allows sky-ships and sky-cities to fly. Not much information on it, other than it is quite explosive. And then there's Crafting, essentially magic origami. Crafters can not only control the shape of the paper, but also change the hardness and sharpness of it too, enabling them to make blades, shields and armour out of it, which makes for a really unique and interesting magic system. According to Himura's parents, Crafters once used to rule the world, and they were the ones that created the shikigami. Most of the shikigami take animal forms, such as dragons and eagles, but there are some shikigami can pass for human, to the point of being able to feel pain, have thoughts and feelings. However, most of the world only sees them as insane, rampaging monsters that need to be hunted down and destroyed. Overall, the magic system really helps set this book apart from other teen fantasy adventures and I hope to see more of it in the future.

In conclusion, this is a really strong opener for a trilogy, packed with great characters, creative magic systems, all set in a fascinating world that I am eager to see more of.

Similar books by other authors:
The Mermaid, the Witch and the Sea by Maggie Tokuda-Hall – another Asian-inspired teen fantasy novel that also sheds light on the evils of imperialism.
Fever Crumb (Mortal Engines Quartet Prequel) by Philip Reeve – more teen adventures with living paper dolls.

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