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Andrea Tang’s "Kingdom of Without" plunges readers into a meticulously constructed realm, an alternate history where a fictitious Beiyang government rules for a century and a half, rigidly imposing societal divisions that stifle social mobility.

The tale orbits around Zhong Ning'er, a seventeen-year-old denizen of the city’s Sixth Ring, contending with a father ensnared in the addictive web spun by the pharmaceutical giant, Lilium.

As a struggling barkeep, Ning'er teeters on the brink of survival, occasionally resorting to selling her cybernetic limbs until an unforeseen opportunity surfaces through the enigmatic Red Yaksha.

The narrative unfurls as Ning'er is propelled into an audacious mission: infiltrate Lilium and rescue He Bailing, alias the Lark, believed to have perished while challenging governmental corruption and Lilium's dominance during a rally.

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Alongside a motley crew encompassing explosives specialist Ke Zi'an, medic Ran Feifei, and biohacker Pan Zhenyi, Ning'er's motivations evolve from a mere mercenary task to an impassioned aspiration to ignite a revolution.

Tang’s narrative skillfully interlaces a tale resonant with contemporary issues, echoing the complexities of real-world societal challenges, notably the intricacies of opioid crises, all within a futuristic cyberpunk setting. Skillfully navigating the storyline, Tang adeptly balances the grandiose aims of societal transformation with riveting action sequences and vibrant dialogues.

Navigating the tensions

"Kingdom of Without" emerges as a razor-sharp and evocative portrayal of a revolution. Tang’s narrative richly probes the human experience, delving into moments of profound significance that ponder the essence of humanity. It is a world that is raw yet enthralling, unveiling a cast of characters and a storyline which excels.

The novel presents a storyline reminiscent of Les Misérables within the confines of a young adult cyberpunk arena, appealing to enthusiasts of tales akin to "Six of Crows" and "Fullmetal Alchemist."

Ning'er's trajectory symbolises a transformative coming-of-age journey, evolving from a streetwise survivor to a pivotal figure navigating the tensions and aspirations for change within a futuristic society.

As "Kingdom of Without" traverses a realm shaped by social divides, and the persistent pursuit of hope against formidable odds, it emerges as a gripping and action-packed narrative resonating fervently with aficionados of young adult readers.

Ahmad Nazir is a UAE based freelance writer