I received an advanced reader copy in exchange for an open and honest review.
Neo-Mecha Mayhem by Priya Sridhar is set in an alternate futuristic Japan where the United States set up an ‘Americanized’ colony in Japan as a part of the treaty to end World War II. In this alternate future, there is a lot going on. Mechas inhabit a lot of the cities and seem to do similar things that humans do when growing up and living. This includes attending school and playing in the orchestra. The story is told from two perspectives: Kaori who is an adopted human in Neo-Mecha with a mysterious past and Neil who is heir to the corsair empire trying to deal with his PTSD and his very messed up family dynamics. I felt a bit lost in the beginning of the book because there was not a lot of information given about Neil’s past, the corsairs, or Honeypot – who is the main antagonist. This made me feel like the world-building around Neo-Mecha was arduous and it was not until I was well into the book did I feel comfortable with my knowledge of Neo-Mecha.
I think the writing style is fine but I had one major issue: the use of semi-colons. As I continued to read the novel, I got used the frequent use, but for the first 50 pages or so, I felt myself being drawn from the story because of the myriad of semi-colons. I am not trying to be a grammar snob here; however, I do think there is a time and a place to use semi-colons. And other than that, they should be used sparingly to promote the flow of the story. Since this is not a final copy of the story, I think it could be edited for a better overall flow.
Whether intended or unintended in the character development, Neil has socialized and/or internalized homophobia. From the commentary, it is obvious that Neil’s parents are anti-LGBTQ+. This easily could have been transferred to him while growing up and influence how he interacts with his siblings. Neil’s brother, Dorian, is openly identified as gay and there are points in the book where the reader gains insight into his relationships. Dorian is a part of a group called the Bondage Boys –
I am not sure where the name originates or if it was intended to connect to his sexual orientation. The author explained that this was a shoutout to Dick Grayson, the first Robin, and how he would always become the Boy Hostage. The group seems to operate more on a political intrigue/influence level in and around Neo-Mecha. We meet one of the others in the group, Taro, who Dorian has a romantic/sexual relationship with. During some of those romance scenes, Neil has an adverse reaction, even a micro-reaction, of disgust. Now this could be because he doesn’t care for romance altogether, but Neil has his own romantic interest in Kaori. Neil’s sister, Nia, is less clear on her identity but there is an awkward passage in between the two of them about their romantic pursuits. Neil suggests that Nia would want to date a girl in almost a mocking way to which Nia responds with anger. Nia could identify under the LGBTQ+ umbrella, but regardless, the way Neil approached the issue was one lacking acceptance.
The ‘save the girl from the big bad’ trope was done well for what it is but was pretty predictable as the story unfolded. In spite of the trope, there were two aspects of the story that were very compelling. The first is the political climate of Neo-Mecha and Japan and their relationships with the United States. Along with the political tensions, Neil is a part of the corsair faction, reeling against the Japanese government. Politics seemed to be in the background of the story and I wished the plot was more integrated into the political struggle. There was not a lot of motive for Honeypot to do what he was doing, but I would be more intrigued if he was trying to gain political leverage, transform humans into mold creatures, and potentially take over Neo-Mecha. This intertwined with the political climate could make for more suspense and give the different factions more depth.
The second is the villain himself: Honeypot. I love this villain. We know pretty fast that Honeypot used to be a scientist and though some experiment, turned himself into a mold creature. This creature can infect humans with diseases, take on different forms, and probably much more that was not shared explicitly through this novel. While a scientist slicing their genes with other creatures is not new, splicing genes with mold is very refreshing in my opinion. Honeypot can create new strains of himself, mutate, and live virtually anywhere undetected. That is pretty awesome for a villain, especially when the protagonists have to problem solve how they are going to defeat him.
Overall, Neo-Mecha Mayhem was an enjoyable read. I look forward to see where Priya Sridhar takes this world she has built with future novels in Neo-Mecha. This book is set to release this year and more information will be on Goodreads and other sites soon.
Final Rating: 3.3/5