Seo’s debut is a sci-fi battle royal between good (the Spielers) and evil (the Hyndlers) in which a runaway, now in the afterlife, tries to avoid “Deletion.”
When the main character, a “vandel” known later as Van, is murdered, he goes to the Otherworld, an in-between realm that exists unseen alongside the regular world. Van becomes a Spieler who has 5 days of Spiels, or challenges, he must face against the Hyndlers, who want to “Delete” him. Successful completion of the Spiels results in revival. Armed with a revolver against the monstrous Hyndlers—who themselves have weapons, wings, extreme strength and supernatural powers—Van discovers he can’t use his revolver to defend himself without forming an alliance with another Spieler. After Diana, also a Spieler, comes along, Van reluctantly forms an alliance with her. In life, Van was a drug-dealing high school dropout and loner who ran away from home. He was bullied at school, abandoned by his chef father and actor mother, and beaten by his drunken uncle. Naturally, Van is reluctant to open up or trust Diana: “She turned to me every now and then, trying to get me to talk to her, but I didn’t bother. Besides, what’s the point? We were using each other to survive. It was pointless to build connections.” Now, though, in order to survive, Van must learn to trust and support others or else he risks losing those he’s starting to care for. The trappings of the Otherworld are complicated—for instance, special “skull stickers” enable Spielers to interact with the living world—but nonetheless add to the compelling conflict. Each chapter title follows the same style as the book title—“RE:VOLVER,” “RE:ALIZATION,” “RE:VISE,” “RE:CEIVE,” etc.—tying into the ultimate goal of the Spiels: to be revived. Multilayered Van, who was abandoned by his cultured parents, says he hates music and art, yet he finds some solace in writing poems and drawing pictures. What the prose lacks in polish, Seo makes up for with creativity and suspense.
An exhilarating sci-fi debut. Teens especially will identify with Van’s disdain for society.