Review: Rogue Heart (Rebel Seoul #2)

Title: Rogue Heart (Rebel Seoul #2)
Author: Axie Oh
Genres: Science Fiction, Romance
Pages: 353
Publisher: Tu Books
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: Available now

Summary: NEO BEIJING, 2201. Two years after the Battle of Neo Seoul, eighteen-year-old telepath Ama works by day in a cafe and moonlights as a lounge singer in a smoky bar at night. She’s anonymous, she’s safe from the seemingly never-ending war, and that’s how she’d like to stay. But then PHNX, a resistance group specializing in espionage and covert missions, approaches her with an offer to expose a government experiment exactly like the one she fled. Soon, Ama is traveling with PHNX on a series of dangerous assignments, using her telepathic powers to aid the rebellion against the authoritarian Alliance.

As the war ramps up, PHNX is given its most dangerous mission yet: to infiltrate the base of the Alliance’s new war commander, a young man rumored to have no fear of death. But when Ama sees the commander for the first time, she discovers his identity: Alex Kim, the boy she once loved and who betrayed her.

Now, Ama must use her telepathic abilities to pose as an officer in Alex’s elite guard, manipulating Alex’s mind so that he doesn’t recognize her. As the final battle approaches, Ama struggles with her mission and her feelings for Alex. Will she be able to carry out her task? Or will she give up everything for Alex again—only to be betrayed once more?

Part heist novel, part love story, Rogue Heart is perfect for fans of Marie Lu’s Warcross and Tahereh Mafi’s Shatter Me series.

Review: I was looking forward to getting back into the world Axie Oh built in Rebel Seoul, and I am delighted to say it’s just as much fun as I remember. This time around, Ama is our narrator, with Jaewon and Tera only showing up as supporting characters in the second half. I’m happy to report that Ama is just as engaging a narrator as Jaewon was. Due to the mental powers granted to Ama by the Amaterasu project, Rogue Heart ends up being more of a spy novel compared to Rebel Seoul’s giant robot war novel (though the giant robots and the war are ever-present in the background). It’s a fun change of pace to see other facets of the rebellion against the Alliance, and it was exciting to follow Ama and the other PHNX members as they did their work from the shadows.

One of my favorite sub-plots in Rogue Heart was the confirmation that other Neo Cities besides Neo Seoul were also running their own versions of the Amaterasu program. That’s exactly the kind of world-expanding I love in companion novels/sequels, and the way Ama handled her Neo Beijing counterparts were some of my favorite scenes in the book. Tsuko also got a lot more fleshing out in Rogue Heart, and Ama’s scenes with him were equally great. How to make ethical, moral decisions in wartime is a theme I’m fond of, and Rogue Heart gave the characters plenty of opportunities to ask themselves and others that very question. Where is the border between what you’re willing to do and the step too far?

Like Ama’s decision to go undercover to spy on Alex. And by going undercover I mean using her telepathic abilities to change his perception of her, to take information from his mind, to make him forget things, and so on. Ama struggled with the way her relationship with and perception of Alex had changed prior to the start of the novel and how she got to know him in the course of her undercover work. It was messy and complicated and an interesting way to reintroduce characters who had known and (thought they) loved each other. I enjoyed the glimpses we got into Alex’s character and his grief, and the resolution of their joint plot was satisfying even though the very end of the book as a whole felt a bit rushed.

Recommendation: Get it soon. Rogue Heart is a worthy sequel/companion to Rebel Seoul. Ama’s turn as the narrator allowed us to explore this world in a new way, and her espionage plot with Alex was compelling. Overall, an entertaining return to a fun science-fiction world.

Axie Oh’s ‘Rogue Heart’ on the Why We Write podcast
For a wave of Korean American young adult novelists, Korean pop culture is a touchstone at NBCNews