Rebelwing, Andrea Tang (Razorbill 978-1-9848-3509-3, $17.99, 368pp, hc) February 2020.
Andrea Tang’s dystopian prep school/cybernetic dragon/political conspiracy novel Rebelwing has a ton of action, some intriguing world-building and more than a few complicated relationships to unpack. It scores well on some fronts and struggles a bit on others, but certainly packs a lot of thrills for readers and provides a science fiction diversion that reads as all too possible (except for the dragons) in our current conflicted times. The biggest win here is the characters, especially protagonist Prudence Wu, who is a lot of fun to watch as she transforms from snarky book-smuggler to futuristic flying hero.
Pru lives in the Barricade Coalition, the last bastion of democracy in North America. Sharing a border with the corporation-controlled United Continental Confederacy, Inc., the denizens of the Barricade enjoy a life free to study, read, and enjoy anything they want. In the UCC, there are fewer choices by design, which is where smugglers like Pru come in. Lying her way across the border, she earns some extra cash on the black market while also gaining a bit of excitement to liven up her school days. Early in the novel, however, things go badly awry and Pru ends up running for her life. That’s when she meets a cybernetic dragon and blacks out, bringing her to the attention of a new and enigmatic classmate who has a lot of things to hide.
The four main characters in Rebelwing – Pru, her best friend Anabel, the aforementioned mysterious Alex, and a barista/engineer named Cat – are all quite compelling, with a variety of quirks and backstories, which make for interesting reading. They come together because of the dragon and a threat from the UCC and Alex’s connections to the Barricade Coalition government (his uncle, and guardian, runs everything). The adults in the story are noticeably weaker creations, however. Pru’s mother is an accomplished author who was also a hero of the revolution in ways that Pru knows little about. She had a good/bad relationship with Alex’s uncle back in the day which now compels them to take big chances when they are suddenly thrust together by the teens. The uncle seems to run everything, but also trusts a bunch of teenagers to save the day, which… never makes a whole lot of sense. The actions of Alex’s own parents, long dead, are revealed through video, which required a lot of telling and little showing on the part of the author as they are shoehorned into the plot. Tang’s narrative truly sang when the teens were front and center; every time the adults showed up it seemed like a necessary lesson was being taught or plot point was being served. The teens were the ones who gave the novel heart.
Rebelwing is an action movie in novel form and, as such, it is comfortable read. Tang’s world is familiar enough to be creepy (corporations as benign overlords – ugh!) and the book smuggling is a nice throwback to previous eras when censorship swept through history. Pru and Alex? Maybe in a future installment. Anabel and Cat? Awesome! The school, the streets and the skies? All fun. The cybernetics hit the right SF note and the friendships read as true. Tang has a ton of imagination and is certainly a writer to watch.
Colleen Mondor, Contributing Editor, is a writer, historian, and reviewer who co-owns an aircraft leasing company with her husband. She is the author of “The Map of My Dead Pilots: The Dangerous Game of Flying in Alaska” and reviews regularly for the ALA’s Booklist. Currently at work on a book about the 1932 Mt. McKinley Cosmic Ray Expedition, she and her family reside in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. More info can be found on her website: www.colleenmondor.com.
This review and more like it in the May 2020 issue of Locus.
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