Publication Date – 18 September 2018
Prepare to experience one hell of an adventure in this follow-up to Peter Tieryas’s successful United States of Japan, in this incredibly exciting read that can best be described as The Man in the High Castle meets Pacific Rim.
Mecha Samurai Empire is set in an alternate version of our history, in which Japan and the Nazis won World War II. This change to the outcome of the war was a result of the creation of the mecha, gigantic piloted military machines which gave the Japanese an unparallel advantage against the American forces. In the aftermath of the war, America was split between Japan and Germany, who created distinct territories. The western states, including California, became part of the United States of Japan, with its inhabitants swearing fealty to the Emperor.
In the 50 years that followed the end of the war, the United States of Japan entered an age of prosperity and technological advancement, and the development of more advanced mecha made them the most feared and effective military power in the world. In addition to their military control, Japanese culture and custom has also been incorporated into American society, history has been rewritten and Japan’s wartime atrocities have been whitewashed.
In California, young student Makoto Fujimoto has only one dream: to become a mecha pilot and defend his country against the terrorists who killed his parents. Unfortunately, Mac lacks the grades or political connections to achieve a placement in the mecha pilot training course at the elite Berkeley Military Academy, and his attempts to pass the special military exam end disastrously. However, a chance encounter with rebel American forces allows him the opportunity to join up with a civilian mecha security company. While his new role might not provide him much action, it might ensure his future placement at Berkeley. But when Mac’s first mission goes horribly wrong, it might take all of his luck and skill just to survive.
Mecha Samurai Empire is an intriguing and exciting new novel from Tieryas and is the second book set in the United States of Japan universe. Mecha Samurai Empire is not a direct sequel to the first book, United States of Japan, but it does contain a number of the story ideas that Tieryas did explore in his first book, and includes appearances from some of its characters.
As soon as I saw this book in the store and found out it featured mecha battles in an alternate timeline, I knew I was going to have to read it. Because of the very enticing story concept, I did find myself going into this book with some very high expectations. After reading it I am very pleased to say that I was not disappointed in the slightest, as I found Mecha Samurai Empire to be an incredibly entertaining book that makes full use of its unique elements and likeable characters to create an addictive story. If you enjoyed the original United States of Japan, then you will definitely love this latest addition to the universe, that not only continues to highlight Tieryas’s marvellous alternate world, but which ramps the incredible mecha action.
The mecha are definitely the stars of this book, and the author spends a significant amount of time focusing on them and highlighting their importance in this new world. Most readers of this book are going to be looking for some electrifying mecha combat, and Tieryas delivers this in abundance. There is a huge amount of different types of mecha action, including training simulations, friendly competitions, small-scale battles between smaller mecha, larger battles between gigantic mechas and Nazi bimorphs (organic mechas), and there is even a large elimination tournament between various mecha pilots. I’m a sucker for a good tournament, but this had to be one of my favourite extended sequences in the entire book. Not only is there some incredible action during these tournament battles but the inclusion of multiple pilots allows the author to show off the various mecha battle techniques and fight styles as the competitors go at each other with a variety of close-combat weapons. I also really enjoyed an earlier sequence when the protagonist finds himself piloting a small crab mecha by himself and must overcome several cannibalised mecha piloted by fanatical American rebels. During these scenes Mac has to use all his training and skills, as well as the limited resources available to him in order to beat a larger force of opponents, and it is a very gripping scene to read. Aside from the awesome action scenes, Tieryas has also chosen to present the reader with a much more in-depth view of the mecha in his universe. The book contains the history of the mecha; the required training, simulations and the teamwork; discussion about famous mecha pilots; examinations of tactics and battle plans; mecha research; and even a look at the cultural impact of the mecha and the reverence shown to the pilots. All of this additional information is deeply fascinating and really adds a lot to the book as the readers are shown they are more than just weapons. If you’ve ever enjoyed the idea of mecha combat before, this is definitely the book for you.
While the mecha battles are one of this book’s best features, readers are also treated to an intriguing and memorable alternate history setting where the Axis powers won World War II and ended up taking control of the United States of America. Tieryas has done an absolutely amazing job of creating a version of America that has been under Japanese control for 50 years, and it is fascinating to see how the author imagines this world would look. In order to show the reader how the world came to be this way, Tieryas comes up with a clever alternate history of World War II and the years that followed it. For example, Tieryas explores how a different strategy during the war could lead to a different outcome. In this case, Japan joined the war by attacking Russia with the Nazis rather than America in the Pacific. There is also some clever mirroring of real-life history, as the two main victorious world powers, Japan and Germany, end up in a cold war after splitting their conquered territory between them.
In addition to the changes in histories, Tieryas has also been quite inventive when it comes to the impact that a Japanese conquest would have on the culture of America. While the Japanese influence on these territories in the book is quite noticeable, the author has come up with some captivating combinations between the two distinctive cultures. I personally though that the way Tieryas continued to provide the reader with a ton of detailed descriptions of the food his characters were having was a very nice touch, as this showcased just how prominent Japanese food is in occupied America, while also featuring some curious examples of fusion cuisine. It’s also interesting to see how much more advanced certain technology appears to be in this universe, a fact which can be attributed to the research into mecha technology and the fact that Japanese and Nazi scientists were able to operate with the world’s resources, including human test subjects, and a completely unchecked lack of morals. There is also a dystopian element around this whole country, as there are a range of elements that show how controlling and despotic the United States of Japan government really is. This is a continuation of the storyline from United States of Japan, and Tieryas continues to explore the nation’s hidden World War II war crimes, the rewriting of history, the use of propaganda, nationwide indoctrination, installed national pride and the fact that the characters are living in thinly disguised police state. All of this serves to be an amazing background to this book that is both intriguing to explore and adds to the dramatic actions of the characters.
The story of Mecha Samurai Empire is strongly driven by the character development of the narrator and the other protagonists as they attempt to find their place in the world. The main character and narrator, Mac, is an interesting focal character as the story is primarily set around his attempts to navigate this world and achieve his dream of becoming a mecha pilot. Due to his past and the tragedy he experiences, Mac has a lot of self-doubt and other emotional baggage. It is moving to see him getting through these barriers in order to become the hero his friends and country need. I also got really attached to several of the supporting characters, especially Nori, Chieko, Kujira and Kazu, who we get to see develop in a similar manner to Mac. Each of these characters has some distinctive character traits and motivations, and it’s cool to see how their personalities affect their mecha combat style. It’s also intriguing to see the various levels of indoctrination and love for their country that these characters have, especially when they start to experience the darker side of the country and at times infuriating military commanders. Another superb subplot is the relationship between Mac and Griselda, an exchange student from Nazi Germany. Despite being old friends, their relationship is constantly criticised or forbidden by the other Japanese or German characters, and the constant us or them attitude is an accurate mirror of similar relationships throughout history. It was a real treat to watch these characters develop throughout the course of the book, and the final fates of some these characters may leave readers reeling.
Award-winning author Peter Tieryas once again delivers another addictive and captivating story set in an alternate history version of the United States of America. Making full use of this clever and creative setting, Tieryas packs his story full of pulse-pounding action as his characters pilot giant mecha in a variety of well-written and exciting battles. With some real heart and emotional depth, Mecha Samurai Empire is so much more than its fun and memorable concept and comes highly recommended for all readers.