Review: STEEL CROW SAGA by Paul Krueger

Book Reviews

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
LOVED IT

I’m just gonna say up front that I adored this book and would straight up die for every single one of these characters. There are magical animal companions, LGBTQ folks literally everywhere, shadepacting (you want to know what that is right?) and OMG all of the feels. I actually cried. STEEL CROW SAGA is delightful and emotional, a true masterclass in character relationships and an antidote to the stale, crusty, straight white fantasy that has dominated for so long. It makes me truly hopeful for the future of our wonderful genre.

So what and who is it about?

Tala is a soldier in the army of the newly-liberated Sanbuna Republic. She’s an orphan whose parents were killed by occupying Tomodanese forces and now that the war is over she’s tasked with protecting the man who will lead the country that oppressed her people for so long. Jimuro is heir to the Mountain Throne of Tomoda and since his own mother’s death, also the de facto leader of the country. Xiulan is a Shang princess, albeit an out-of-favour one, designated a distant 28th in line to the throne. An eccentric scholar and officer in Shang’s highest police force, she plans to kidnap Jimuro herself, as a means of securing her father’s favour and ascending to the throne. To this end she recruits Lee, a petty-but-accomplished thief with commitment issues but a buried heart of gold.

The world and setting of STEEL CROW SAGA is rich and detailed and there’s a lot of names, titles and countries to absorb quite early on. This did distract from the narrative a little bit, but honestly I didn’t care; I loved it even and just found myself wide-eyed and absorbed by the magic that was unfolding before my eyes. From the delightfully endearing animal companions many characters bond with through the magic of shadepacting, to the skilfully-delivered and complex political landscape of postcolonial Tomoda, everything about the book just sucked me in.

The world of the book is an Asian-inspired, fantastical pseudo-modern setting, where rudimentary firearms exist alongside electricity and motor cars powered by combustion engines. And while the people of Sanbuna and Shang practise shadepacting, the Tomodanese are renowned for the art of metalpacting, the magical practice of channelling their essence into metal objects like ships and cars and bullets, allowing them to manipulate objects without the need for a power source. It’s this power that enabled them to dominate and colonise the rest of the world for so long before the events of the book. Claysad wrote a great review of STEEL CROW SAGA over on her blog, where she says this about the sheer imagination and level of detail in the world of STEEL CROW SAGA:

One of the biggest ways that these cultures differ is their use of magic. The way Krueger describes these magical systems and the ways the magic looks and feels is magical in and of itself.
The magic of the peoples of Sanbu and Shang is called shade pacting. A shade pact is a magical agreement between a person and an animal wherein each being promises something to the other in return for a piece of their soul. The animal becomes the person’s lifelong companion, living inside them until they are called.
The people of Tomoda find shade pacting to be… problematic, to put it lightly. Their magic is called metal pacting. They are able to manipulate metal in a number of magical ways—like heating it to make it hotter or moving or guiding it through space. The Dahali, meanwhile, manipulate magic more directly, casting hexbolts made of soul energy.
These distinct, unique modes of magic are deeply entwined in their respective cultures and, in universe, have been used in more than one way to colonize and subjugate—but also to revolt and rebel.

You should totally read Claysad’s whole review by the way, it’s about 28x better than this one – click here for more Steel Crow love.

While the world, politics and setting are all fantastic, they serve the much grander purpose of providing the backdrop for the magical relationships of these four wonderful characters to grow and develop. At the beginning of the book Tala, Jimuro, Xiulan and Lee all have long-established and deeply-rooted reasons to hate each other and yet, as the story unfolds, we watch as they come to understand each other and the role they each have to play in making the world a better place. It’s far from plain sailing though. They all make mistakes. They hurt each other. Most of the time are actually working against each other and yet I was still rooting for all of them to succeed. But what this book does so well is show the power of the true desire to make amends and the knowledge that real redemption can never be expected or presumed, but must be worked for and earned through meaningful action.

All in all, this is a book the world needs. A book where LGBTQ folks just are, who exist in the world without having to justify their place in it, who aren’t defined by their trauma and instead are fully-realised characters with hopes and dreams and goals. It’s a book with a nuanced exploration of colonialism, of it’s social impact as well as the psychological effects it imposes on the colonised and coloniser alike. It’s a book that does all this with exceptional depth of character and a portrayal of some beautiful interpersonal relationships that will make you feel some feelings. Please go and read it, you’ll thank me for it 🙂

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Hey! Watcha Readin’: 03/11/19

Updates

Happy Sunday booklings! The more discerning among you may have noticed there was no weekly update on Wednesday. That’s because my brain rebelled against the idea of weekly updates in the middle of the week – makes more sense to do it at the end right? So from now on you can look forward to a Hey! Watcha Readin’ post brightening up your Sunday afternoons. Without further ado, here’s what I’ve been reading this week.

Recently Finished: STEEL CROW SAGA by Paul Krueger
I’ve been gushing about this book all week on Twitter. It’s just wonderful and makes me truly hopeful about the future of modern fantasy. Fonda Lee said it’s basically Pokemon combined with Avatar: The Last Airbender and that’s such an apt and perfect description, I hesitate to say anything more. I think Paul Krueger himself even jokingly referred to it as Full Metal Pokemist. It follows four main characters in the aftermath of an anti-colonial war. Each character is from a different nation – some were colonial oppressors, others fighters for liberation and some were both. Each of them has reason to hold long-established grudges against the others, but despite all this STEEL CROW SAGA is a story about acceptance and friendship in a troubling and hostile world, written with nuance and intelligence. I’ll put out a full review this week but honestly, don’t wait til then, just go read this book now.

Currently Reading: NORTHERN LIGHTS by Philip Pullman
THE TV SERIES LOOKS SO EFFING GOOD! I’m re-reading these books purely inspired by the release of the series and I’m so excited to re-live this story I just cant even hngggghhh! His Dark Materials was actually my first fantasy true love as a kid and was my gateway drug to the fantasy genre so they’ll always have a special place in my heart. The scale of these books is so vast that it’s not possible to distil it down for this post, but in simple terms this first book tells the story of a young girl called Lyra, who comes into possession of an alethiometer, a compass-like device that can tell anyone capable of reading it the truth about any question they ask it. What follows is an epic tale of conspiracy, betrayal and armoured freakin’ polar bears! Did I mention how excited I am for the TV series?

Next Read: THE SUBTLE KNIFE by Philip Pullman
This is the second book in the His Dark Materials trilogy, so I can’t discuss it much without being too spoilery. Suffice to say, if you haven’t read these books, they’re a treat. And if you don’t want to jump into them just yet, the TV adaptation of the series starts tonight and it looks stunning.

November Readalong: DRAGONS OF AUTUMN TWILIGHT by Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman

Throughout November I’ll also be taking part in a readalong of the classic DRAGONS OF AUTUMN TWILIGHT, the first book in the Dragonlance Chronicles. It’s hosted by Jason from Off The TBR and it’s not too late to join. Hit Jason up on Twitter @jasonats or over on his blog and he’ll add you to our Goodreads group. The more the merrier 🙂

That’s what I’ve got planned this week. Let me know what you’re reading and if you enjoyed this update follow the blog to never miss a post!

Hey! Watcha Readin’: 23/10/19

Updates

Hi folks, thanks for stopping by for another weekly check-in. As ever I’ll be using WWW Wednesday, hosted by Taking on a World of Words, to chat about my week in books. If you want to take part just answer the three questions below 🙂

What did you recently finish reading?
What are you currently reading?
What will you read next?

Recently Finished: FAHRENHEIT 451 by Ray Bradbury
I didn’t actually know all that much about this book before reading it, despite it being a classic of dystopian fiction. Usually these types of books seep into public consciousness through cultural osmosis alone (everyone knows what 1984 is about even if they haven’t read it) but for whatever reason this one hadn’t taken root with me. It turned out to be about a future society where books are banned and the government employs an oppressive organisation of ‘firemen’ to burn down the houses of anyone found to be reading, along with their literary collection. It was a decent read; Bradbury’s prose is nice and he does a good job of making the reader feel the claustrophobia imposed by the authoritarian setting. I thought the character development was a bit lacking and the overall tone was quite elitist; professors and academics were the only ones still interested in reading books while the easily-distracted masses sat around watching soap operas. Even then all the elites cared about was preserving Aristotle and Walt Whitman.

Currently Reading: THE ROSEWATER REDEMPTION by Tade Thompson
This is the conclusion to Tade Thompson’s Wormwood trilogy and if you follow me on Twitter or have read my blog before, you’ll know how much I adore this series. Aliens and spies. Zombies and crazy biotechnology. All that great stuff. The first book blew me away and remains one of the best science fiction novels I’ve read in years. The sequel was also fantastic so I’m sad to say I’ve found the first half of THE ROSEWATER REDEMPTION lacks the same spark and energy of the previous two books. It’s still enjoyable, it just feels a bit rushed so far. Thankfully, the second half seems to be picking up so I hope I can say it finishes with a bang!

Next Read: STEEL CROW SAGA by Paul Krueger
Okay I can’t wait any longer. I’d originally planned to re-read the entire His Dark Materials trilogy before the TV series release, but I’m putting that on hold because I need to read this book. Anything billed as Pokemon meets Avatar: The Last Airbender is something I was never going to put off for long and Paul Krueger is being buried in a fervent heap of praise everywhere I look. I don’t know too much about the story other than it follows a band of misfits thrown together to find a mystery killer who defies the laws of magic in a world where ’empire is won with enchanted steel and magical animal companions fight alongside their masters in battle’.

Yesssss!

That’s what I’ve got planned this week. What are you folks reading?

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