University of Washington undergraduate Zoe Hana Mikuta made waves in the young adult (YA) book community last summer when she released her Sapphic sci-fi epic “Gearbreakers.” The novel — already optioned for a movie when it was published — features star-crossed lovers fighting on opposite sides of a robot war and was a staple on LGBTQ+ reading recommendation lists last year.
Fresh off the June 28 release of the book’s sequel, “Godslayers,” Mikuta, 22, spoke with The Seattle Times about the mecha, Sapphic duology.
The sequel opens with Eris Shindanai and Sona Steelcrest left, once again, on opposite sides of a war. After the two caused wreckage on Godolia, Eris has to flee captivity from the corrupt city, leaving behind Sona, who has been indoctrinated into forced loyalty to Godolia and hatred toward Eris. Fighting through gigantic mechanical robots and nearly mind-shattering brainwashing, the two have to make their way back to each other.
From her writing development to the plot and characters, Mikuta deconstructed the duology. And readers, be warned: There are spoilers.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
There was a great reaction to your first book, “Gearbreakers.” Do you remember the moment you realized that it was popular?
It’s really weird to place myself in it. I have a book sitting next to me right now. It’ll seep in, I hope. It’s hard to have an association with it, especially since writing is so private then I’m giving it to other people. It’s still like a private hobby, but then I’m releasing it so other people can have that kind of voice here I didn’t when I was growing up. It’s still so hard to conceptualize that people can carry it around in their brains.
In “Godslayers,” you have a lot more fun with the structure of chapters. Was that a sign of you growing more confident as a writer?
I think so. Working for an editor for the first time ever with “Gearbreakers,” I was always afraid to be like, “No, I don’t want to cut this,” or, “No, I want to do this.” So I ended up not saying anything, and then it went to print and I was like, “I should have said something.” The worst thing my editor could say is no and then I can even give her an argument about it. I know that now because that’s what I did with “Godslayers.” Whenever I wanted to keep something, I just asked her.
Despite all the talk about gods and deities, the books, at the end of the day, are about humanity. What do you think humanizes the characters in your book?
I think what humanizes them, and I think this is like a general thing that can be said, is their relationships to each other. How they come to regard each other — their initial encounter versus once they have spent more time together — the change within themselves, and then observing how they’re growing these feelings for one another. I think that really humanizes them. That’s kind of what happens in real life, too. You’re having this very human experience where you’re witnessing yourself change and you’re witnessing being vulnerable with another person.
There are a lot of parallels between the two books, especially between main characters Sona Steelcrest and Eris Shindanai. Why did you decide to follow that pattern, or did you even realize you were doing it?
I think it was like one of those things I realized in retrospect, like I knew that it was flipping the enemies to lovers — like for their roles. In the first book, it’s described as enemies to lovers, but Sona already has these loyalties so it’s really a foreseen path that she would side with the Gearbreakers eventually. I kind of wanted to bring it back to the worst case scenario where Eris is in love with Sona and Sona doesn’t remember her. I wanted it to reflect their internal character arc.
Can you break down Eris’ character?
In the first book, her whole thing is trying to undo this thing that she’s been brought up with: That affection is a crux and it’s going to get her killed or going to make her hurt later, which might be true, but you have to do it to live. Now she has to go through this test of Sona not remembering her, so it kind of does put that to the ultimate test. She’s definitely in love with this girl, she admitted it in the last book to herself. But the first time she comes into this book is when she says it out loud.
What about Sona?
Sona was living with all this rage. In the first book, her character arc, she doesn’t have to undo it, necessarily — I like angry girls being angry — but she didn’t see that there were things to protect and not necessarily just destroy. And that’s what she has to go through in “Godslayers,” that’s her trial. She’s been taken out of her head, so she’s able to observe the violence that she’s done. This war is very gray, it just depends on what side you’ve been dropped on.
The Zeniths are presented as this “big bad” that we don’t really get to see in the first book. Then we get to know Enyo, who is the last Zenith, and he’s around their age — still technically a child, which is mentioned a lot in “Godslayers.” Can you break down his character a little?
I just wanted to fortify with his character that war isn’t so black and white. I did want some kind of redemption arc but still staying true to the world. I wanted people to be able to look at his position and be like, “Oh, this is the reality of it.” Imagine if you were born and then your destiny is to be handed a billion people to protect. There’s no choice in that; there’s no room to really unmake yourself from it. I also wanted him to be a foil for Sona. In some ways, he’s her inverse and also her mirror.
Can you describe the relationship between Enyo and Sona?
Their relationship is definitely toxic. It’s almost like an enemies-to-affection arc. They are in the same rut, they’re both acting out of violence. Sona is almost using Enyo because she witnesses that she has this affection for him even though he’s done horrible things just like she has, and she’s using that as an example for herself — she’s able to almost work that affection in for herself. If she’s able to forgive Enyo for all these horrible things, maybe she can eventually forgive herself for them.
A character from the first book, one that we thought was gone, makes a surprise appearance in “Godslayers.” Can you explain that decision a little more?
I just love it. I love when a book does that; it’s kind of cheesy. I just love the character. There’s a deeper implication for how Godolia treats their pilots like they’re disposable. I just needed a bit of mystery to string along that someone is being held captive.
There’s also a very hard and unexpected death. Is there anything about it that you want to say to fans?
I suffered, too. I’m sorry. But I do consider it a happy ending.
Let’s talk about the ending. Where do you imagine Sona and Eris after this?
For my own heart, I want to leave Eris and Sona alone. They’re sad, but they’re together. They have a lot of stuff to work through. They have each other. Now there’s less war — well, Godolia is probably just internal warfare. But Sona and Eris have completed their arc, they’ve chosen their side and won’t apologize for it. A happily ever after, let’s leave it at that.
“Godslayers” was optioned for a movie last year. Are there any updates on that?
We got a new producer on the docket: Don Murphy, who worked on the “Transformers” movies. We’re still holding out, waiting for a studio to accept. I think they’re now trying to transition to more of like a TV series, which is a format that I prefer.
What other projects do you have in the works?
I’m currently working on a fantasy horror YA. It’s an “Alice in Wonderland” retelling meets “Attack on Titan.” It’s super bloody. I’m tilting away from sci-fi — I’ll definitely drift back at some point — but for now, fantasy horror. I just want to cut my teeth on a bunch of different genres.