Mecha Samurai Empire (Book Review)

Mecha Samurai Empire is a beautiful complexity, weaving alternate history, military fiction, cultural appreciation, and a coming-of-age story into a well-rounded novel that demands to be read. It’s more than epic battles between mechanical warriors, though those are exciting and well-done. It’s a story about good versus evil and a young man’s place in the world as he grapples with the realities of war and the inevitable losses that result. It’s a story with heart, and I appreciated every page of it.

NOTE: I was provided a free copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest, unbiased review. I only publish reviews of books I enjoy, and this novel meets that criterion.

MECHA SAMURAI EMPIRE

Peter Tieryas
ACE, September 2018

QUICK SUMMARY

Makoto’s dream is to become a Mecha pilot. His reality works against him, forcing him to work his hardest to overcome the obstacles standing in his way. Through his journey, we see an alternate version of how our world could have been.

Spoiler

WHY I LOVED IT

A FLAWED PROTAGONIST

I’m a huge fan of the lead character, Makoto. He’s flawed, as most bildungsroman protagonists are, trying to discover who he is as a man while struggling against his restrictions as a boy. This world of war starts off as a game to him and he learns, very quickly, that life isn’t just a series of virtual worlds that only require another yen to start over. He’s forced into heartbreak and anger, and it fuels him to become the strong, committed soldier and friend he is in the end. He’s surrounded by these confident students who show no fear, by soldiers who willingly give their lives for their country. Instead of confidence, Makoto shows fear and indecision as he weighs each decision for the life-and-death situation it is. There’s an air of flawed humanity to him that is almost poetic.

WELL-DEVELOPED ALTERNATE WORLD

If you’ve read Man in the High Castle, you’ll see a lot of similarities in the makeup of the world. The focus lies mostly on the United States of Japan, and it’s assumed that the rest of the world lies under Nazi or Japanese rule. Whereas Dick’s novel focused more on the politics and the working man, Mecha Samurai Empire delves into the daily culture of the world and the experiences of its youth. A sense of wonder pervades the opening chapters, showing us a high-tech digital world where video games reign supreme, where multi-cultural food concoctions delight around every corner. I loved the use of Japanese culture in every aspect of this world. Rendering the fighting machines as samurai was a brilliant choice, adding the sense of awe and respect deserving of the most epic of warriors from world history.

EPIC MECHS

The tech in this novel was astounding and I found myself continuously geeking out over the seemingly endless varieties of machines. There’s a little bit of everything thrown in here, reminding me of Star Wars, Fallout, and Wolfenstein, all in one. The fight scenes are epic, thanks to these machines, and Tieryas is a masterful battle writer, making a thirty page battle scene seem as though it were over in a flash. It’s exciting and compelling, and I was amazed at his ability to draw me into these conflicts.

GOOD VS EVIL

At the core is a conversation on good versus evil. It’s fascinating to imagine historical events turning out differently, to see the many ways our world could be reshaped from its current boundaries. It’s easy to focus on the new technologies and cultures that may have emerged, but what of the atrocities? The world of Mecha Samurai Empire is a dark place, and Tieryas doesn’t shy away from showing us how scary the world has become without the moral restrictions resulting from an allied victory during WWII. Nazi experimentation, deep-seated racism and a complete disregard for the value of human lives has become a part of this culture that rules half of the world. It’s terrifying to imagine and shows just what’s at stake for the USJ. This underlying sense of dread, of supreme evil, fuels the story and the characters, giving them something important to fight against.

THE LITTLE THINGS

To end, it’s the little things that take a novel from good to great. There are so many threads woven into this narrative that make it a complete world. You’ve got the great video games with warrior cats and a pair of girlfriends fighting their way through enemies together. You’ve got the portical method of communication that sounds amazing. Most importantly, there’s a rich thread of culinary exploration from start to finish, highlighting Japanese dishes I wasn’t aware of. I loved this infusion of culture, and the book’s ability to make me hungry at random times. Combined with the above points, Tieryas has created a robust novel that entertains, inspires, and teaches the values of humanity in the midst of strife.

CONCEPTS

Alternate History, War, Japanese Culture, Mechs, Robots

Interested in more books like Mecha Samurai Empire? Check out our book reviews here.

Photo by Modestas Urbonas on Unsplash