A new book review? On two books at once?! What madness is this! But yes, dear readers, it’s time for me to bust out my reading cap this year and get back in the swing of things. I posted on my Goodreads Profile that I was going to be trying to read at least 26 books this year (one every two weeks) and after seeing a tweet posted by WriteLeeWrite on twitter that posted some book titles I knew I had to check one (Mecha Samurai Empire, specifically). Also can I just say I am proud of my 2019 Challenge Results?
Imagine my surprise when I found out it was part of a loose series and there was a book called United States of Japan set before that, and an upcoming book called Cyber Shogun Revolution. The author Peter Tieryas did confirm on twitter that while these three books are set in the same universe they are not really connected narratively. But I will get into that. Let’s talk about these two books!
United States of Japan
The basic premise of this book (And really the series) is that the Allies lost WW2. America has been effectively split in half between Japan and Nazi Germany. The East Coast belongs to the Nazi’s, the West, the Japanese Empire. The book opens with the final moments of the war coming to a close and a bunch of Japanese Internment camps being freed by the Imperial Army.
From there the book fast forwards to the 80s, and we meet our protagonist Beniko aka Ben. He is head of the Office of Gaming Censor and a Captain in the Imperial Army, where he basically has to monitor all the “poritcal” games (cell phones, basically) and make sure there are no thought crimes or dissent happening. He is quickly shown to be pretty blasé about most things, a sort of go with the flow character, but he does show some irritation about certain events like being passed over for promotion and the like in the military.
However, things change for him after he gets a mysterious phone call from an old general he knows asking him to give his (The generals) daughter a proper Christian burial rather than a standard Japanese / Shinto one. This call ends up getting Ben mixed up in a strange case headed by the Tokko, the empires Secret police, involving terrorists calling themselves the George Washingtons who are somehow distributing a portical game where the US won WW2 rather than the Japanese. From there, Ben and the Tokko Agent Akiko dive into the underworld of The USJ to determine who created the game, its purpose, and along the way uncover dark secrets about the Empire.
There is a lot going on here, and the themes of the book deal with honor, resistance, race, loyalty, and so much more. It’s very political, and has some disturbing bits involving graphic depictions of torture which I did not expect. Peter clearly knows what he is talking about however, and he doesn’t glorify ANY of the atrocities that occur in his world on any side. The idea of a police state, with heavy monitoring and thought crimes being dealt with (and with only one outcome generally) show a bleak possibility of our own future. This book is kinda like the Bourne movies in a lot of ways, now that I think about it. High stakes espionage and mysteries abound.
The twists and turns do not let up and I could not put the book down, with new revelations about the characters and their pasts coming at just the right moments to make you go “WHAT! OH THAT EXPLAINS IT!”. The ideas presented with futurized tech in the 80s are also fascinating to me. If you are a fan of alternate history and sci fi, well you should read this. It’s very much a “crime thriller” styled book, so keep that in mind. Frankly I don’t want to say too much more as a great deal of my enjoyment from the book was the mystery and world building. Akiko, as a character, took a little while to grow on me but she eventually did, and Ben was just a trip to learn about as the book progressed, especially as his personal history was slowly revealed. The ending was bittersweet and a bit abrupt, but overall a solid finale.
Within 24 hours of purchasing this book I finished it, and was instantly wanting to jump to the second book, Mecha Samurai Empire. So I did.
Mecha Samurai Empire
Set this time in the 90s, and about 10 years after the events of United States of Japan, Mecha Samurai Empire is the story of Makoto, aka Mac, and his dream of becoming a world class Mecha Pilot. This is a VERY different book from the last one. First, its told in a first person rather than third person perspective. We see the world from Mac’s point of view, and we see his life from his high school days right up to him achieving his goals and the results of all his hard work paid off.
It opens with Mac seemingly giving the readers a tour of his life. He likes to go to the Arcade with his best friend and spend his time playing portical games. Mac is a War Orphan, his parents killed in the 2nd San Diego conflict (Which we see the beginnings of at the tail end of USJ), and the government had assigned him a foster family and has been paying for his schooling. His goal, his dream, is to become a Mecha Pilot and get into BEMA. However, we are also shown that he is a rather average student as far as his studies go, and while he is solid at the simulations and games he really isn’t suited, at least as far as his school is concerned, to be a Mecha Pilot.
After events take place during his High School his life gets much more complicated, and we follow him as he works his way through his life to eventually becoming a Mecha Pilot. We learn more about his history, secrets about his parents are revealed, and we get to see him interact with lots of interesting characters.
As a character, Mac is interesting. He has a goal and a singular focus on that goal, and his life does not make that an easy thing to achieve. You cheer for him as he struggles against all odds, against a system that seems dead set to prevent him from achieving his goals. We see how war orphans are treated in the USJ and the sorts of things that are still taking place even if the timeline has advanced. We also run into characters from the first book, who interact with Mac and take an interest in him.
Further, the background plot of the book deals with a new terrorist organization called NARA as well as rising tensions with the Nazi Germany half of the world. Eventually this plot is brought front and center and Mac has to deal with old friends and issues that occurred in his life earlier in the book. The climactic battle is a full on assault by the Nazi’s with their horrible Biomechs (Which are fully explained and let me tell you, its messed up!) against Mac and his friends, set in the city of Berkley.
A big part of this book, obviously, are Mecha. The depictions of their combat, the various types of Mecha that USJ uses, and the pomp and circumstance around the Pilots are excellent. A high point of the book for me is the BEMA Mecha Tournament that occurs about 60% of the way into the book. Watching Mac cut loose and show just how good of a natural pilot he is was awesome, as was seeing how he handled the various opponents. Also, later on there is a ton of video game references that had me laughing. Double Dragon, Chrono Trigger, and Mega Man 2 are all referenced as well as some other stuff like Godzilla and Anime. Also the nature of the ending sequence and the team make me think of Super Sentai shows. And the ending, this time, was on a more positive note, even given the nature of the final battle and all that takes place. Mac’s journey was, in the end, worth it.
Both books are very well written, but I preferred Mecha Samurai Empire overall. The style of the book, its focus more on a single character and that characters journey, and the plot and ending make it the better of the two. However, I strongly suggest if you are interested in this series to read the first book first. While in truth the two novels are not directly connected plot wise, the fact that characters from Book 1 show up and play a major role in Book 2, plus the fact that Book 1 really holds the worlds backstory, makes it almost needed reading in my opinion.
There is also a third book on the way titled “Cyber Shogun Revolution” that is due out 3/3/2020 and may already be out by the time you find this dear reader. Given how much fun and enjoyment I got out of these previous books I am most assuredly going to pick that up, and possibly update this review with it once I have read it.
You can pick up both these books on Amazon, and if you are a fan of Anime, Mecha, Sci Fi, and Thrilling adventure, I strongly urge you give these a shot.
The USJ Series on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07T3HSM91?ref_=series_rw_dp_labf