A wily young thief must use her wits to survive futuristic, alternate history Beijing in this Les Misérables–inspired young adult cyberpunk that is perfect for fans of Six of Crows and Fullmetal Alchemist.
When Zhong Ning’er takes the job, she expects a smash-and-grab burglary she’s doing to make rent and help out a friend. What she doesn’t expect: a sad-eyed army boy who dreams of insurrection, a former rebel leader trapped inside a secret lab, a group of aspiring revolutionaries who are first collaborators, then compatriots, and then, perhaps, friends.
But this is Beijing, nearly a hundred and fifty years after General Yuan Shikai successfully declared himself emperor in 1915. His descendants rule the country from their seat in the imperial city, their gendarmerie—the Beiyang Army—run the streets, aided by cyborgs and the Brocade Guard. Walls have risen, dividing the city into districts called Rings—nominally only by geography, but in truth by class. Earthquakes devastate the northern farmlands, crops drown in the southern typhoons, and all over the country people are hooked on a drug they call Complacency.
As a Sixth Ring girl who watched previous uprisings crushed brutally by the court, Ning’er isn’t much of an optimist, and she’s certainly no revolutionary. But that might not be up to her—as the stakes get higher, the time for passivity is quickly running out, and she must decide if she wants to sit idly in her cynicism, or embrace the breathless, terrible possibility of hope.
In this cyberpunk alternate history dystopia by Tang (Renegade Flight), the Beiyang government took control of Beijing in 1915 and has ruled for 150 years through strict class stratifications offering limited upward mobility. Seventeen-year-old Zhong Ning'er lives in Beijing's Sixth Ring with her father, who has become dependent on the addictive drugs developed by pharmaceutical company Lilium. Ning'er is barely getting by as a barkeep and must occasionally sell her cybernetic prosthetic arm and leg for cash, until she's offered a job by the Robin Hood–like Red Yaksha. She's tasked with infiltrating Lilium and rescuing He Bailing, also known as the Lark, a near-mythical girl who spoke out against government corruption and Lilium's influence and was presumed dead following a rally gone wrong. Accompanied by explosives specialist Ke Zi'an, medic Ran Feifei, and biohacker Pan Zhenyi, Ning'er finds her motivations changing from getting paid to sparking revolution. With parallels to real-life opioid crises set against a futuristic backdrop, this fast-paced heist balances lofty ideals of change with snappy dialogue and pulse-pounding action. Characters are Chinese. Ages 12–up.