Magic Motorcycles, Dinosaurs, a Love Triangle and More in Road To Ruin by Hana Lee


What do you get when you take magic motorcycles, dinosaurs, apocalyptic storms, vicious raiders, and a love triangle between a prince, a princess, and a courier who loves them both? You get the ferocious and fabulous debut novel, Road To Ruin by Hana Lee, a science-fantasy of epic proportions and intimate detail; a book where the distance between love and duty can be miles of dangerous, dusty wasteland, where monsters lurk in the eaves of caves and storms appear with the suddenness of thought. In this world, cities of humans are separated by such dangers, cloistered and closed against the horrors. Couriers like Jin-Lu and her trusty magebike connect these cities to one another, bringing news, items, letters, and more between peoples and governments, getting paid as she risks her life contending with a world that’s trying to kill her. One of those with magic in their blood, Jin-lu can use her ability to empower machinery to charge her bike and keep her safe, as long as she has enough magic inside of her. 

For the last three years, she’s been making a living, sending money back to her mother, keeping her head down, and has become the personal messenger between two very powerful people: Prince Kadren and Princess Yi-Nereen. She has been delivering their love letters to each other, as well as writing them, and while she’s been helping the magic-less Prince and the incredibly powerful Princess fall in love, she’s made a mistake: She’s fallen in love with both of them, too. That’s the tip of the iceberg as a forced marriage for Yi-Nereen is planned, causing the Princess to beg Jin for help: Get her out of there and get her to Kadren across the wasteland. The story starts at a frenetic pace and only gets wilder from there, and Hana Lee takes us on a helluva ride. 

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Road to Ruin
Road to Ruin

Billed as a fantasy Mad Max, I can say with confidence that the marketing team was absolutely on target: Lee infuses big, bold strokes of action and mayhem, violence and hierarchy as everyone struggles to claw their way to a place of power at the end of a climate-ravaged world. But she also hones in on the finest detail not just of place, but of people. Those little touches here and there speak volumes, especially in a world where showing tender care and kind regard can be a death sentence. George Miller would be tickled at the level of talent and care taken to build out this world and this story, as Lee dials in and out of focus with her attention to plot and character, spectacle and brutality, beauty and horror in equal amounts. From moment one, when a pteranodon slams into Jin-Lu while traveling, Lee makes it very clear: Living in this world is hard, whether you’re inside a city shielded from the storms or not. It is clear that Lee knows this world and loves it, balancing moments of awe for the reader with moments of HELL NO. 

But don’t think this is just some action and explosions wrapped up in magic and plot; Lee is a thoughtful writer and finds nuance and complication, both for characters and the world itself, as each conflict and collide. What happens in a world where those without magic are second-class citizens? What would someone without power do in order to even get a crumb of it, to gain the ability to determine their life? What happens when knowledge that was lost for a reason is found again? What do you bring back to the world, what do you keep hidden? Lee doesn’t provide easy answers; characters with moral centers are tested, sometimes failing, and those believed to be without them have hidden depths revealed. Jin-Lu, the heart of the novel, provides ample examples of someone truly lost in the middle of it all trying her goddamn best to navigate pretty much across-the-board bad outcomes. 

Because hey, no novel works if the characters can’t measure up, and I can say that Lee delivers and more. And while we spend time with and come to care for Yi-Nereen and Kadren, our two letter-writers across the wasteland, Jin-Lu is our primary protagonist and boy, is she tested. Raised by a father who couriered too, he taught Jin-Lu about the enormous freedom and joy to be found in the waste, in living for oneself away from the governments that crack down on the displaced, the magicless, and those who cannot give value to a society that prizes power. And Jin-Lu, who experienced time and again the brutality of those cities as well as the pain inflicted on her and her mother, who were forced to move time and again, has had almost no definition of home to begin with. Watching our magebike riding heroine as she is drawn into the orbit of not one, but two people she has come to love, and into the shadow of a former lover, Lee puts Jin-Lu through the wringer. But the best part of her narrative journey is watching Jin, time after time, find that under it all she truly does want to see the world safe, even if she never got to experience that safety. Chef kiss emoji, times three. 

Road To Ruin has a lot to love about it, so I hope you take the journey to discover them all like I did. I haven’t even touched on the ancient civilization plot, or the bastard husband-to-be of Yi-Nereen, or Prince Kadren’s cinnamon roll of a personality, or the secret that lies at the heart of all of magedom, ah! If I wrote this much and there’s still so much to discover? You can only do that by reading the book—sorry, I don’t make the rules, you have to! And if you need anything else to convince you, this had one of the most shocking endings I’ve read in years! Lee has absolutely set herself up for a tantalizing and frenetic sequel someday, and I hope you join me on the Road To Ruin, take the ride, and find out for yourself. 

Wear a helmet. Beware pteranodons.  icon-paragraph-end

Road to Ruin is published by Saga Press.
Read an excerpt.



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