Much of the story’s appeal of giant battle mechs is in the machines themselves. Their look, their character, it’s fun to compare them and support them when they go into battle. But Gear breaker really don’t care about the mecha fantasy. Its machines are cold symbols of authoritarianism, and its protagonists seek to destroy them at all costs.
Sona is the pilot of a Windup – a giant humanoid machine built to destroy and oppress. In order to control it, she herself became part of the machine. Her body connects directly to the Windup, so that she can see through her eyes and even feel her pain, all while making the divine call of Godolia, an ever-growing empire. And she’s good at it: so much so that she just became the youngest pilot to ever be named Valkyrie, the most elite of the Windups.
But there is just one problem. Sona despises Godolia. All she ever wanted was the chance to destroy him – and now, they’ve given her the power. She just needs to find the right moment to use it, and that moment comes in the form of a captive Gearbreaker named Eris.
The Gearbreakers are motley teams of rebel soldiers who figured out how to take down the Windups. Young and a little too in love with danger, they rush in, invade the Windup and destroy it from within, killing the vulnerable pilot. Eris and her team of wild kids are the best Gearbreakers of them all. But then a teardown goes south, and Eris is dragged into a Godolian torture chamber where they corrupt her mind and send her away for being a stupid traitor.
Except that Sona has a different use for her. Together, they can escape and find a way to bring Godolia to its knees, once and for all … if only she could convince the Gearbreaker that it might be worth trusting a pilot.
This book receives many comparisons with Pacific Rim, which is easy to understand. As Pacific Rim, Gear breaker brings a sense of poetics to action-oriented procedures. In the case of Pacific Rim, poetry was in the visuals, while in Gear breaker, it manifests itself in the musicality of the language. First author Zoe Hana Mikuta has a sense of words, and it will be exciting to see how her voice develops over time.
Gear breaker also has a lot to offer readers who enjoy sapphic languor. The developing relationship between Sona and Eris examines how trust can be built despite trauma, and it will certainly leave the reader keen on a quick turnaround on the sequel to come. The family dynamic found between the Gearbreaker children is also gentle, which creates a sense of community in a largely violent and fractured world.
But there’s a reason why it’s easier to think of visual media that features giant battle robots than novels – movies, manga, cartoons, graphic novels, these formats can focus on artistic design and writing. action, showcasing the cool look of different machines and how they crash. together. In a novel, these elements are inherently more subdued, requiring the reader’s imagination rather than that of the stunt designers and animators and choreographers. In the case of Gear breaker, I’m not entirely sure the narrative description could have made up for the lack of visuals. During the fights, like the pilot inside the machine, I felt rebounded and unable to imagine exactly how the fight was going. Maybe that was by design, to make me understand the characters inside the Windup instead of being a spectator, but it reduces the impact of the giant robot fight in the first place.
While the first act of the plot is quite strong as we meet Sona and Eris and advocate their escape, things get a little less focused from that point on. I think the ultimate problem is that we don’t have a specific antagonist in a story that’s largely driven by external conflict. Our heroes fight a faceless empire, making it harder to invest in the stakes. The boss fight is against machines that are driven by people – but we have no idea who these specific people are anymore. And at the end, when we meet a character who is presumably set up to be the antagonist of the sequel, he’s someone we’ve never met before instead of a character we’ve spent time with. .
Gear breaker has its funny and ironic moments, but it’s largely a dark story of violence and rebellion, tinged with a deep sense of longing for a life where love and family are possible. Readers looking for a different kind of mecha tale than the regular fare will find a lot to invest in.
Caitlyn Paxson is a writer and performer. She is a regular editor for NPR Books and Plume and Quire.
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