by A.J. Hartley
Series: Alternative Detective #1
Published on June 14, 2016 by Tor Teen
Genres: Fantasy, Mystery, Young Adult
Seventeen-year-old Anglet Sutonga, makes a living repairing the chimneys, towers, and spires of Bar-Selehm. Dramatically different communities live and work alongside one another. The white Feldish command the nation’s higher echelons of society; the native Mahweni are divided between city life and the savannah. And then there’s Ang, part of the Lani community who immigrated there generations ago and now mostly live in poverty on Bar-Selehm’s edges.
When Ang is supposed to meet her new apprentice, Berrit, she finds him dead. That same night the Beacon, an invaluable historical icon, is stolen. The Beacon’s theft commands the headlines, yet no one seems to care about Berrit’s murder—except for Josiah Willinghouse, an enigmatic young politician. When he offers Ang a job investigating the death, she plunges headlong into new and unexpected dangers.
Meanwhile, crowds gather in protests over the city’s mounting troubles. Rumors surrounding the Beacon’s theft grow. More suspicious deaths occur. With no one to help Ang except Josiah’s haughty younger sister, a savvy newspaper girl, and a kindhearted herder, Ang must rely on her intellect and strength to resolve the mysterious link between Berrit and the missing Beacon before the city descends into chaos.
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This is the kind of book I want more of in YA fantasy. Steeplejack was entertaining and beautifully written in a city colonized and still dealing with the effects of that, as seen through its structure and its people. Though considered young adult, this book reads a lot more like an adult fantasy in how dense and intricate it is and I am ALL there for it!
I think what first sold me was the world and the writing. Woven seamlessly together, they created a rich and vibrant city of Bar-Selehm, a city with diverse residences and very distinct cultures attempting to fit together in this single space. Did I mention it’s inspired by South Africa? How awesome is that?!
One of the aspects of Steeplejack that set it apart from other YA fantasies I’ve read is that it takes on the topic of race and makes it a core idea throughout the entire book. How the characters act, the choices they make, it all ties to their cultural and racial backgrounds and I liked that this was both a large part of the world but a smaller part of the story. And by that I mean that everything was written in such a way that this was the world. It didn’t feel out of place or thrust upon the plot to make a point. It simply… was, and it worked while still making a point about the class and race differences, as well as how the characters fit within the world and fought their societal standing.
All of this would be nothing, however, without Anglet Sutonga, Ang for short. Told through her eyes in first person point-of-view, you get to live the daily life of a steeplejack, though not your typical seventeen-year-old. She’s strong and courageous, caught between two worlds and constantly at odds of how to go forth in the world. But she’s still quite flawed and I wondered why someone like her would make some of the decisions she did, and she’s a bit “big” for the world, being one of the best steeplejacks out there, but I didn’t mind this too much by the end, if I’m being totally honest.
I loved that her family had a lot of page time and their relationships, between her and her two sisters, her former community, her deceased father, they all made up a part of her and continued to impact her life. I feel like families aren’t really a big part of fantasy, acting more as a plot device than a constant presence in the protagonist’s life as in the case of Ang. It was refreshing, to say the least, and used the character’s background to bring more to the story rather than relying on unrelated subplots or a romance.
Oh right, by the way, for those of you who want to read more fantasy WITHOUT romance (I know you’re out there), this is the book for you.
Combined, this young steeplejack and this beautifully diverse and intricate world create a mystery packed full of action and secrets. I’m really excited to see where her adventures take her in the next book, Firebrand, and HIGHLY recommend y’all grab a copy of Steeplejack before the sequel comes out!