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Once a steeplejack, Anglet Sutonga is used to scaling the heights of Bar-Selehm. Nowadays she assists politician Josiah Willinghouse behind the scenes of Parliament. When government plans for a secret weapon are stolen, their investigation leads right to the doorsteps of the city’s superexclusive social club, Elitus. Ang has a chance to catch the thief, but only if she can pass for a foreign princess. Her best chance to learn the ways of royalty lies in the aloof Dahria Willinghouse and the intense Madame Nahreem, a woman possessing high standards and unusual pets.

Yet Ang has other things on her mind. Refugees from the north are trickling into the city, but an ambitious politician is proposing extreme measures to get rid of them. She soon discovers that one theft could spark a conflagration of conspiracy that threatens the most vulnerable of Bar-Selehm. Unless she can stop it.

336 pages, Hardcover

First published June 6, 2017

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A.J. Hartley

39 books272 followers

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 44 reviews
Profile Image for Lindsay.
1,263 reviews222 followers
January 2, 2018
In an fantasy country inspired by South Africa a young woman from one of the minority populations builds on her new position to face a plot that affects the city where she lives and international politics.

Anglet Atonga is now secure in the employment of an up and coming politician when she stumbles on a plot with ramifications for all sides of politics, the progressive party of her employer, the nationalist ruling party and the extreme white supremacy party. The latter is gaining popularity as the city experiences in an influx of black refugees from a Northern war. Her skills are tested and there's a lot of growth needed before she can perform the role that Willinghouse and the city of Bar-Selehm need her to perform.

I actually like this one more than the previous book. Ang's position is established and so too are other key supporting characters, giving the story more of a feel of the detective procedural in a fantasy world that the title of the series seems to imply. She has the trust of some of the police, and Willinghouse as well as having established friends throughout the city and beyond, and having her leverage these contacts feels very familiar as she puts together the overall scheme.

There also isn't the egregiously ridiculous non-care of a newborn that was conspicuous in the previous one.

Finally, the discussion around refugees, racism and the rise of the political right feels very topical which gives the whole plot a lot more weight than is probably immediate on the page.
Profile Image for Niki Hawkes - The Obsessive Bookseller.
725 reviews1,200 followers
July 14, 2017
[Dual Review - Both 4 stars]

Steeplejack and Firebrand [click here for a US & Canada GIVEAWAY of both titles] were two of the most unique books I’ve ever read – the type of stories that continue to resonate long after you finish them!

The books were successful on several accounts. The “whodunit” detective mystery was engaging, made all the more compelling by Anglet’s (the main character) personal stake in solving the crime. Her involvement felt more organic than not, and the passages dedicated to developing her convictions and motives were my favorites of the book. She also had a heartfelt side story going on, which offered a satisfying amount of character depth. Anglet is definitely the best part of this series.

The second best part is the inclusion of diversity of characters and an author who wasn’t afraid to write about unfair class systems and discrimination. He offered a variety of dynamics between races not usually seen in YA, for which I applaud. Anglet is a non-white main character, and in a market clamoring for more diversity in books, she was a breath of fresh air. My only issue is that the cover art makes her race a little ambiguous – I would’ve liked to see her more strongly represented.

The books take place in what feels like a 1920s era city, complete with tall buildings (obviously, based on the need for steeplejacks), a neat alternate light/energy source, and plenty of dirty-dealings and underground crime. Interestingly enough, this urban setting is fringed by hippo-occupied rivers, lion-prowling brush lands, and native tribes people. Needless to say it made for a unique atmosphere. I wasn’t totally convinced of its feasibility, given pollution issues and humanity’s tendency to dominate and destroy any threats around major hubs. Then I discovered A.J. Hartley spent some time in South Africa doing research for this series… and now imagine the story reflects this weird dichotomy fairly accurately. It’s still hard for me to wrap my brain around, but I can’t deny that the threat of charging hippos and lurking crocodiles added a lot of spice to the story. Sometimes it’s the most unlikely of real-life situations that are the most unbelievable in fiction. Side note: A.J. Hartley has to be one of the most interesting authors I’ve come across (you can see what I’m talking about on his website).

Both novels were equally compelling. While Firebrand didn’t have quite as much growth for the main character, it made up for it by having her become much more immersed in her new “career.” At one point near the beginning I thought it was flirting with hokey, then the author surprised me with an awesome twist, and I was hooked!

Overall, this series (so far) has been incredibly entertaining, memorable, and thought-provoking. I was especially glad to see a YA/Mystery hybrid that felt like a true merge of those genres (where the mystery felt sophisticated enough to appeal to readers of that market). Overall, there wasn’t a single thing I didn’t like about Steeplejack or Firebrand – both exceeded my expectations with flying colors. I’m eagerly awaiting another Alternate Detective novel.

I want to think the publicists at TOR/Forge and A.J. Hartley for a chance to read and review an early copy of Firebrand – I enjoyed it thoroughly!

Other books you might like:

Crocodile on the Sandbank - Elizabeth Peters
The Naturals - Jennifer Lynn Barnes
The Waking Fire - Anthony Ryan
Snapshot - Brandon Sanderson
The Aeronaut's Windlass - Jim Butcher

Via The Obsessive Bookseller at www.NikiHawkes.com
Profile Image for Badseedgirl.
1,258 reviews62 followers
October 6, 2017
Just for the record, this book did not take a month to read. I had an excessive number of ILL and holds come in all at once and I had to put this story on hold. The reality is it took about 3-4 days to read.

This is seriously one of the hardest series to pigeon-hole into a category.

BSG: Welcome back crazy voice in my head! I have not heard much from you since I reviewed The Night Circus.

CVIMH: Yeah, well I been waiting for you to let your freak flag fly and today you opened the crazy gate! WooHoo!!

BSG: Lets start with the large genre definition. This is not really an urban fantasy. It is set in the city and the savannahs around it. But it is set in a "Victoria" era, and so it does not really feel urban.

CVIMH: Victoria era, well it is clearly Steampunk. wait haven't we had this conversation before?

BSG: Yes, because every time you hear the words "Victorian era" you grab your Top hat, goggles, corset, and your gears and widgets, and start talking in the worst fake British accent ever, while dancing around in my head singing about steam engines and dirigibles. Which you don't even pronounce right. Firebrand has none of the fantastical elements of steam technology, so just put the damn corset back in your closet!

CVIMH: You know, you really should not antagonize crazy, you know that right? Well I'm reasonable, Hee, Hee Hee, lets start with something easy. It's published by Tor teen so it's a YA book.

BSG: Well yes and no. The heroine is a young person, but the story deals with some fairly complicated political and socioeconomic themes dealing with race and economic diversity. I think we're going to call this an alternate/parallel universe set in that universes version of the Victorian era.

CVIMH: Well, I guess we can, but couldn't I have some kind of a dramatic meltdown. You know I do a good dramatic meltdown......Please.

BSG: No. I'm sorry but I just needed to use you as a sounding board. It's good to know we can have an adult conversation that does not end in anyone melting down. Firebrand is just a really good, entertaining and enjoyable story about the evils of colonization, and how that colonization alienated and marginalized the indigenous people in the colonized countries.

CVIMH: Ok, you know what, you deserve this....... ARE YOU F*CKING SH*TING ME. DID YOU SERIOUSLY JUST TYPE THE WORDS ENTERTAING, ENJOYABLE, AND THE MARGINILIZATION OF AN ENTIRE GOUP OF PEOPLE IN THE SAME SENTENCE. SERIOUSLY THEY CALL ME THE CRAZY ONE!!!!!! Oh wait you were right,this story was good, no great, and I also liked it............. Well Sh*t.

Profile Image for Shelley.
5,160 reviews458 followers
July 5, 2017
*Source* Library
*Genre* Young Adult, Steampunk
*Rating* 3.5-4

*MY Thoughts*

Firebrand is the second installment in author A.J. Hartley's Alternative Detective series. This is a world that I have best described as being an alternative reality of 19th century South Africa. In this world, Bar-Selehm is home to 17-year old Protagonist Anglet Sutonga. Ang is a former Steeplejack, a Lani who has seen the worst sort of discrimination because of her skin color, and now works as a undercover detective for Josiah Willinghouse, a junior member of Parliament. The story really does start out in a action packed manner, and ends in a stunning manner. 

*Full Review @ Gizmos Reviews*

583 reviews6 followers
February 6, 2017
This exciting sequel reads like a murder mystery but is much more a dynamic social commentary that is as timely as it is compelling. The book is expertly written, never preaching or pointing fingers, but subtly applying pressure to examine race issues, gender inequalities, microaggressions, and socio-economic problems in our culture. The pace is unrelenting, hurtling the reader through one nail-biting scene after another, connecting the seemingly unrelated series of events into a satisfying conclusion. Teens will see themselves in the tough, realistic, and fierce yet vulnerable protagonist. The multicultural world-building will draw in readers of many ages and backgrounds, while the well-crafted mystery and action will keep them wanting more books in the series. The multiple mysteries are ultimately solved and the ending is very satisfying, answering all questions posed and setting up future installments. Overall, this is a delightful follow-up to the explosive first novel from an established author who clearly knows his craft.
Profile Image for Jessica Strider.
513 reviews62 followers
June 6, 2017
Pros: excellent world-building, interconnected plot, great characters


Grappoli is invading more native territory, sending refugees fleeing to the city of their enemy, Bar-Selehm. But Bar-Selehm’s politicians aren’t sympathetic to the refugees’ plight, and some believe the time to unite with their white brothers of Grappoli, at the expense of the black and brown lower classes of their own city, has arrived. When important military papers are stolen, a clue sends Anglet Sutonga to an exclusive club, where she investigates the connections of its members.

This is the second book set in this faux 19th Century South Africa. While you can read this without having read Steeplejack, characters are reintroduced without preamble, so you may find yourself confused by some of the relationships. The plot is self-contained and while the politics carry on from the previous book, it’s easy to figure out what’s happening in that respect. Some of the world-building assumes you’ve read Steeplejack, so there’s little explanation of the Drowning and the racial divisions of the city, though those come up a lot in the story.

The world-building on the whole is excellent. Again, there’s very little of the book happening outside the city, but the city itself affords lots of conflict. I’m impressed by how detailed and realistic the interconnectedness of everything is in the book.

I really like Anglet. She’s young, passionate, and tries to do the right thing, even when knowing what the right thing to do is difficult. And with the racial and political tensions running through this book, she’s often left unsure of why she feels like she does and whether her work for Willinghouse is achieving any good. I especially liked her confusion over how to best help the refugees, and why she felt a connection to their sorrows despite their differing circumstances.

I appreciated the introduction of a deaf character and the chance to see more of Bar-Selehm’s society (high and otherwise). I liked the fact that characters had differing opinions on the political situation of the city.

Unfortunately I read the book in a disjointed manner, which made it hard for me to recollect who some of the players were. There are certain scenes that require a careful reading, as the cast is fairly large and some seemingly minor details become important later on.

The plot went in several disjointed directions as Anglet slowly figured out what was going on, pulling together for the climax.

I really enjoyed this book, and its discussion of racism, refugees, and colonialism is topical.
Profile Image for Amy.
Author 2 books152 followers
April 12, 2017
Dear Mr Hartley,
Please accept my humble apology. I am unable at this time to write a review of Firebrand, for reasons which are far too mundane to go into here (i.e. life gets complicated sometimes). I really wanted to have written a stellar one, since, in all likelihood, I'll be meeting you at JordanCon next week. (In theory I'd be the one wearing the sign that says "Sorry I didn't get to review your book before meeting you" -- though more likely I'll just be wearing a sheepish grin on my face.)

However, thank you for giving me the opportunity to grow out my nails, as I seemed to have bitten them down. In Ang, you have created a great character, and keep unfolding a world that fascinates me. My unease with some of the political situations were because they rang a little truer than they might have when you were penning the story, but please don't mistake unease for complacency. Ang isn't the only female who can do some shit-kicking. Some of us have to do it land based or behind a computer, rather than from a rooftop or crane. And I know a cos-player or two who could use Madam Nahreem's guidance to help pull off a role realistically.

As to the question raised at the end of the book, unless Willinghouse really steps up his game, I hope it's Daria over her stuffed-shirt brother. I suspect life would be a lot more colorful, exciting, and passionate with that choice.

Many thanks to friends at Tor Books for sending me this ARC. My only complaint is that now I have to wait extra long for the next Alternative Detective book to make it into my hands.
Profile Image for Noelle.
373 reviews246 followers
September 21, 2017
I just really love this series. I love the world building, I love the amount and variety and predominance of female characters and I love the themes, issues and story lines Hartley chooses to explore. I can't wait to see where this series goes next.
Profile Image for Stella.
96 reviews6 followers
July 17, 2018
I love the action and mysteries of these books, as well as the social justice themes. I see in book three the villain’s goal is to ”make Bar-Selehm great again”, so I’m looking forward to reading about his defeat!
Profile Image for Janine Spendlove.
Author 29 books84 followers
September 18, 2017
Definitely an allegory for modern day politics -- and a very good one at that. Did the audio book & found I couldn't stop listening to it. As every the mystery and intrigue sucks you right in.
Profile Image for Jess N.
64 reviews1 follower
June 9, 2021
Did NOT think I would be starring this one so low. But I am. And honestly it doesn't have to do with the mystery but rather a curve ball thrown in about the main character Anglet.

She had an established personality, demeanor, and love interest (and possible 2nd if you include both Willinghouse and Mnega) but the author decided to screw with her as a person in this book...I mean...really? Sometimes the way authors and screenwriters "think" people act/think in real life really blows my mind. Cus just because someone hits on me and "stares longingly at me", doesn't mean I'm falling head over heals for them dude.🙄 Especially when I've already expressed my interest in someone ELSE! And honestly, why? Why is it still an okay thing for insta love out "Oh your insulting me because you really must have an undying love for me." For crying out loud...🤦‍♀️ So NOT. Any scene Dahria was in with her made me cringe instantly because I was just waiting for word vomit to come spewing out. She isn't someone I would have as an acquaintance, let alone a friend. Anyone who decides it's okay to go from insulting me one minute to staring at me in an incredibly untasteful manner the next is someone who will not be part of my company long. Such fakery of friendship.

Will not be reading the 3rd.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Jenn.
4,063 reviews43 followers
September 9, 2017
DNF. It kills me to, because I've liked everything ELSE I've read by this author, but this one just isn't for me. I made it through the first one, but didn't love it. I decided to give the second a shot, but it's just not my genre.
Profile Image for Sara.
Author 4 books52 followers
July 14, 2017
My prevailing thought when I finished FIREBRAND this afternoon? This is turning out to be a fantastic series. :)

This sequel retains a lot of what made STEEPLEJACK a special novel: a compelling protagonist, a mind-turning mystery, heart-pumping suspense, and breathlessly believable worldbuilding. And while STEEPLEJACK introduced us to the racial and social class tensions inherent in Bar-Selehm, FIREBRAND fearlessly yet sensitively shows those conflicts coming to a head, drawing from current-day events (namely the worldwide refugee crisis) and apartheid-era South Africa. I also love how Ang's empathy shines through just as much as her detective and climbing skills.

I still think I like STEELEJACK more. The story told in FIREBRAND is gripping, but the stakes aren't as personal this time for Ang as they were in the first book. But I have a feeling that might change for Book #3 (I'm assuming there will be a Book #3?). Bar-Selehm is fraying at its seams, and I'm already eager to see what crime Ang will have to investigate that could change her home forever - and how it might impact her and everyone she cares about.
Profile Image for Kara Babcock.
1,923 reviews1,258 followers
April 6, 2018
Mike Heath is back at it again with that great cover art. Ugh. That angled title. Yes.

Yes yes yes yes yes.

Oh, and A.J. Hartley wrote a book that goes between these covers. It’s pretty good too.

What, you want more? OK, fine.

Firebrand is one of those sequels that comes out swinging, delivering more of what you loved about the first book without any of that messy “middle book” syndrome that so often afflicts trilogies/series. If anything, it’s more compelling, more interesting, more full of risky storytelling and themes. Although you can read and enjoy this book without reading Steeplejack , why would you deprive yourself of Ang’s origin story? And your appreciation for Firebrand is definitely going to be greater.

No longer a steeplejack, Ang is working on the down low for Josiah Willinghouse, Member of Parliament for the Brevard Party in Bar-Selehm. When a mysterious thief steals the plans for a top secret new weapon, Ang has to infiltrate an exclusive society club with a white supremacist lean in order to hobnob with the richy-rich people and uncover a conspiracy among Bar-Selehm’s high society. Meanwhile, refugees continue to pour into the city as a result of Bar-Selehm’s rival, Grappoli, continuing to prosecute its war against the tribes in the area. As this situation increases the tension and the turmoil in the city, Ang’s choices and her ability to uncover this plot might have a direct effect on the livelihoods and lives of so many of the city’s less privileged inhabitants.

It is so nice to return to Bar-Selehm. I loves me the great fictional fantasy cities, and this one is no exception. Hartley does a great job initiating us into the politics and demographics of the city and its neighbours without too much exposition. We quickly understand that this is about colonialist and imperialist ambitions, racism, and of course, capitalism. In other words, Hartley has produced a loose allegory for the politics of so many places in this world in a way that is relatable and understandable. I know this book gets labelled sometimes as young adult, and I’m not sure I agree with that, but I think that young adults who read this will (a) get the allegory and (b) enjoy the hell out of it. From the odious and white supremacist Richter to the exploitative Nathan Horrich, there are plenty of antagonists in Firebrand who resemble all too well high-profile figures in today’s politics.

Paired with this amazing setting is the equally exquisite protagonist, Anglet Sutonga. Firebrand burns brightly exactly because Ang is already so different from who she was in Steeplejack, and over the course of this book, she continues to grow and change. She reflects on this explicitly, observing how Madame Nahreem and others push her to become someone she isn’t. Whether it’s adopting the persona of Lady Ki Misrai to infiltrate Elitus (ugh, that name) or simply donning that “neutral mask” as she pursues her duties for Willinghouse, Ang is discovering that her old persona is no longer sufficient. This is not a bad thing. As we grow up, we realize how we have to change to tackle the new challenges that face us and achieve the goals we set for ourselves. Ang is no longer a steeplejack. She has set new goals for herself, like finding a way to provide education for her sister’s children. I love watching Ang become a more capable person, even as she deliberates with herself over exactly who she wants to become.

Hartley keeps all of this going at a good clip. I was a little worried when, about a third of the way into the book, Willinghouse suddenly brings Ang out into the countryside for a training montage. This proves to be a bit of a red herring, though, or a brief detour before Ang is back in Bar-Selehm to infiltrate Elitus. From there, matters move with alacrity, and it is not an exaggeration to say that for the last hundred or so pages I was loath to put this book down.

It’s unfortunate that some adults will pass this series by because it’s labelled/marketed as young adult. This is a book that adults and adolescents alike will enjoy.

The only thing that struck me as a bit odd was the whole thing with the Gargoyle. I kind of see what Hartley is doing with that, but not really? I just wish we had a little more to go on—not necessarily complete closure, if it’s going to be an important thread in book 3, but at least a little more to think about.

Firebrand has everything I want in a sequel. Full stop. Can’t wait for book 3!

My reviews of the Steeplejack series:

Creative Commons BY-NC License
Profile Image for H. P..
607 reviews30 followers
June 6, 2017
I was all kinds of impressed by Hartley’s Steeplejack. Firebrand improves on it. Hartley is more confident in his story, his setting, and his characters, and it shows. Ang Sutonga is back as a private detective/secret agent for parliamentary backbencher Josiah Willinghouse, and she has a new mystery to solve. Ang may no longer repair chimneys and clocktowers as a steeplejack, but rest assured that much of the action takes place above street level. And Hartley continues to handle hot button issues with far more nuance and understanding than his peers.

I complained that Steeplejack didn’t have quite enough high flying action, starring a steeplejack and all. Evidently Hartley read my complaint and rewrote Firebrand accordingly, while it was sitting on my desk. That’s dedication to the craft, friends. Firebrand opens with Ang chasing a gentleman thief across the rooftops of Bar-Selehm. Not content with breaking into brownstones to stare at noblewomen while they sleep (and, uh, steal their jewels), the cat burglar has stolen plans from the War Office. The chase ends with a showdown at the end of the arm of a construction crane hanging over the river and, yeah, this book is gonna be good.

The stolen plans were for a new and improved machine gun design. Ang has to get to the bottom of their theft with national security at stake. This will involve a lot of burglarizing of the homes and factories of Bar-Selehm’s leading industrials and politicians. Ang must also enlist the help of Willinghouse’s Lani grandmother, Nahreem, to train her for an infiltration of Bar-Selehm’s most elite and exclusive club (through the front door). And all this while Bar-Selehm is—again—boiling, this time from fighting elsewhere on the continent, an influx of refugees into the city, and the rise of a white supremacist party in Parliament.

It wasn’t entirely clear (at least to me) that Bar-Selehm was a quarter-turn version of South Africa until the afterword of Steeplejack. Firebrand makes Bar-Selehm’s place in the larger continent much more obvious. The continent is in turmoil, with Bar-Selehm’s rival the Grappoli fighting tribal insurgencies in the north. Which among other things is creating a refugee crisis in Bar-Selehm. I groaned inwardly when the refugees appeared. That, of all things, I didn’t trust a writer to handle well. But Hartley is no hack.

Firebrand tells a standalone mystery story, but it continues Ang’s story from Steeplejack. It does both very well. Ang remains a highlight, and, as I said, I’m very glad Hartley gave her even more chances to climb. The mystery is again complex and interesting. Ang’s enemies are deadly. Hartley handles the issues raised adroitly, and the “Heritage” party is even more chilling given where we know the history of the real South Africa went (I would say they are too over the top racist, but, well, South Africa). The characters from Steeplejack are all back, and Willinghouse’s sister Dahria continues to steal every scene she is in. The books ends with a satisfying conclusion to the mystery at its core but also with a hint about Ang that has me desperate to get my dirty mitts on the third book. Hartley continues to write prose that is at the same time plain and beautiful.

Firebrand also remains superversive. There is a point well into the book where Ang questions why she cares so much about getting to the bottom of things. It isn’t her salary from Willinghouse. It isn’t driven by the death of someone she knew and from her corner of society, as in Steeplejack. The answer Ang eventually comes to amounts to something along the lines of Truth, Justice, and the Bar-Selehm Way. Ang cares because it is the right thing to do. Back in the day we used to call people like her heroes. (I’m told there is a movie featuring a female hero doing moderately well at the moment. Perhaps Hollywood should give Hartley a call.)


Disclosure: I received a review copy of Firebrand from the publisher.
Profile Image for Van (Short & Sweet Reviews).
537 reviews17 followers
June 11, 2017
Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher exchange for a honest review.

I haven’t read the first book in the Alternative Detective series, but I had no problems following the story in Firebrand. In this follow-up to Steeplejack, we find Anglet, a former Steeplejack working as a private detective/spy for parliament member, Willinghouse. After blueprints for a machine gun gets stolen and a wave of refugees goes missing; Angl is sent into the inner sanctum of the elite society to find out who is behind it all and what she discovers is more alarming than she can ever imagine.

Firebrand takes place in an alternative South Africa and I found everything from the setting to the characters refreshing. I don’t remember ever reading a novel taking place in Africa/Alt-Africa or one featuring such a vast cast of intriguing, complex, and incredible women. Ang, is our main heroine and we are treated to her first-person POV and within the first page I knew I was going to like her and the story. Ang has many admirable qualities, everything you’d want in a heroine. My favorites scenes were of Ang and Madame Nahreem’s training, teaching Ang the proper etiquette of a lady and how to become someone else/neutrality. I also thought the supporting cast was amazing, and one of the characters that rivaled Ang was Willinghouse’s and one of the lady’s society member, Dahria. Dahria was a hoot! She puts on this indifference front, acting as if she’s above Ang (most of the time) but the two are more alike than they wish to admit. And under all that sarcasm (which I found hilarious) she was a little ol’ softie.

Hartley weaved an enthralling story full of multiple threads that converged for a satisfying conclusion. I appreciated and love the way that Hartley incorporated serious issues of race, social class, economic, and politics into the story without it overshadowing the story and characters itself. It was subtle and brought another dimension to the plot. The mystery had me intrigued, the action had me at the edge of my seat, and the wonderful characters had me smiling and laughing throughout the book. I loved Firebrand and can’t wait to see what Hartley has in store for Ang and company next. Firebrand is such an underrated, gem of a novel and definitely doesn’t get the notice it deserved. I highly, highly recommend Firebrand, if you’re looking for a book that has it all, then look no further! It’s here, it’s Firebrand.
Profile Image for Starr.
625 reviews7 followers
July 6, 2017
I was given a copy of this title, free, in exchange for my honest opinion.

Anglet is back with another mystery. This time she is chasing after a thief that stole the plans for a secret weapon. In the midst of this mysterious theft Bar-Selehm is going through their own refugee crisis. This mystery takes Ang deeper into the social elite of Bar-Selehm, places that even her benefactor cannot go. She must learn to become, not just pretend, that she is someone other than herself. The deeper that the mystery takes Ang, the more intertwined the events between the refugees and the theft becomes. Ang finds that her wit, connections and sheer determination is not enough for this case. She must become something that is foreign to herself, and she realizes that this is not easily done.

I enjoyed book #2 in this series a slightly bit better than the first. In the first installment, there were things that often pulled me out of the story, either by not being completely necessary for the story at hand or the blur between the familiar and the unknown. These elements were not present in this book. While the various races and cultures are constantly talked about in this one, the mystery is tied directly to the case that Ang is working on.  The political climate is charged and tense because no one can agree on what the right response to the surge of refugees flooding their shores. The timeliness of this mystery works very much in its favor.

I like the changes that are happening to Ang. She is growing as a character. She has been kicked out of the Drowning, not being the type of Lani that belongs there. She is no longer part of the Seventh Street gang, even after the leader who tormented and attempted to rape her is gone.  Though she is still dependent on the skills learned and perfected, she is also no longer a steeplejack. But she is so much more than all these things, and she has always been more. This is the time where she is learning this for herself.  She is not very good at staying in her place because she is so much bigger than the place that’s been allotted to her. We are also able to see how her friendships grow deeper as she goes about this mystery, a few of them turning into a newfound family.

Again. Hartley fills his book with a lot of things that are going on. Initially, they appear to be separate things but as the mystery unravels the connections are uncovered. I am not sure how long this series is supposed to be, but I’m going to see it through.
Profile Image for Kathy Martin.
3,390 reviews73 followers
November 27, 2017
I really enjoyed this sequel to STEEPLEJACK. Ang has another mystery to solve. Plans for a new weapon are stolen and her boss Josiah Willinghouse sets her on the path to find them. Along the way, she pretends to be a foreign princess to gain entry to an exclusive club with links to the theft and finds herself becoming involved with the refugee problem in her city.

Ang is a fascinating character. She is an ethnic minority in a city which gives minorities less value. In fact, a new movement in Parliament, which her boss is fighting, wants to remove all ethnic minorities from the city. She has been exiled from her community as a result of actions in the first book and is feeling something like a refugee herself. She is also getting used to being a peripheral part of the ruling class. She is a savvy detective who would never be hired by the white police force. She has friends and contacts throughout the different classes in her city.

This story has a steampunk feel. Its setting is an engaging world based on South Africa. I liked the descriptions of the lands outside the city and I liked how uncomfortable Ang was with them. I thought the dangers presented by hippos and lions added to the atmosphere.

I recommend this series highly because Ang is such an interesting character and the world building is so well done.
Profile Image for William Bentrim.
Author 66 books62 followers
June 26, 2017
Firebrand by A. J. Hartley

This is the second book set in a future where whites, blacks and browns live in uneasy harmony. Anglet Sutonga is a teenage steeplejack. One of if not the premier steeplejack in Bar-Selhem turned private eye or perhaps special agent. Someone has stolen some documents and her personal government official tasks her with finding them.

Hartley did an excellent job creating a community that seems to combine aspects of Victorian society with a respect for the press and uneasy race relations. Anglet’ ethics and morality give her frequent pause in this book. She is faced with a sociopath with semblances of a racist and a Hitler clone who frighten her and nauseate her simultaneously. .

Current events play a part as there are refugees drive from their homes by war and civilians interfering in government plots as well as nefarious government plots.

I highly recommend this second book and love the strong female protagonist. I pleased to find that Hartley, a noted male author, has gone out of his way to feature a strong female protagonist in this new series.

Web: http://ajhartley.net/
Profile Image for Ajay Ollis.
24 reviews
September 13, 2017
Firebrand was a great and worthy follow-up to Steeplejack. It continued following the incredible MC, Ang Sutonga, in her unofficial investigator role. This time around, blueprints of a secret weapon are stolen, and to get to the bottom of it, Ang has to learn some new techniques to blend in with the in-crowd of Bar-Selehm's most elite club. New characters, deplorable and loveable are introduced, along with many returning cast from the first book. This one had a slower build-up compared to the first, but not in a boring or drawn-out way. The sociopolitical commentary which Hartley handled deftly in Steeplejack is increased in this sequel, perhaps even more expertly woven through the fabric of the story. I'm very anxious for book 3 in this great series! My only regret is in reading it slow on account of a busy work schedule!
Profile Image for Sabrina.
518 reviews23 followers
July 4, 2017
When I saw that the heroine is a spy I knew I had to read this book then you add in that this book takes place in Africa well and alternative Africa and I was hooked. I haven't read any books set there so I was excited to read this one and A.J. doesnt disappoint. I loved the main character Ang. She is what you want a heroine to be and I instantly connected to her from page one. As much as I love Ang and all the other characters what really had me hooked on this book is that A.J. added in issues with politics, race, and social class which is what we are dealing with today. But even with these issues being added not once did it take away from the story. I am definitely hooked and can't wait to see where this series goes.
Profile Image for Diana Gagliardi.
Author 2 books7 followers
October 3, 2017
so many things going on in this series- love it

it may make more sense if you have a background in the colonial battles of the 19th century (it's a fantasy world, but there is much that is familiar in that) but even without it has depths. Race and economic station are again forefront as is the oppression of the powerless by the powerful.

Ok ok, it's a fun fantasy mystery, but I enjoy it for its hidden social commentary as well :)

Profile Image for Ashley.
1,065 reviews13 followers
June 23, 2017
I loved loved loved loved loved Steeplejack. I was waiting impatiently for the sequel and it did not disappoint. Do you like original steampunk YA featuring badass feminist protagonists of color? Yes, of course you do. So read these. Firebrand picks up right when Steeplejack leaves off and it is so much fun to read. I need more. More. Now. Write faster, Hartley. I'm waiting, damn it.
Profile Image for Anne.
971 reviews
June 16, 2021
This is the second book in the Steeplejack series and I continue to enjoy both the main character Ang and the way she handles the secret work she does for her employer. Ang is a strong character who always tries to do the right thing but is in a tough situation as she balances between worlds while belonging to neither. All in all a good book.
Profile Image for hesione.
407 reviews13 followers
June 10, 2017
I'm kind of saddened that this series isn't more popular. Clearly the author was inspired by current nationalistic/racist tension and refugee crises in the making of this second book, and he does it so, so well.
Profile Image for Samantha.
623 reviews95 followers
July 15, 2017
Now working as a private detective/spy, Ang may be living a financially healthier life than her years a steeplejack, but she’s in as much danger as ever. Political parties are clashing, some turning from very conservative to something darker, something much more extreme that puts people like Ang and many others in fear for their lives. Not to mention, refugees are giving their all to escape their war plagued country, but certain politicans will do whatever it takes to keep them out of the city. Ang must pose as one of the elite, fight old and new enemies, and navigate her own conflicting place in a dangerous world.

While Steeplejack had plenty of action, political intrigue, and mystery, Firebrand turns everything up by approximately 5 notches. Though this is an alternate history set in South Africa, it’s impossible to miss the parallels Hartley makes with contemporary world politics (and brilliantly so). This series is from Ang’s perspective, but I love how we see so many unique secondary characters ranging from inspectors to parliament members to governesses and more. Firebrand has one of the most complex and relevant settings I’ve read, and with each page, you’ll find yourself sinking deeper and deeper into the mystery plot.

As this is a series, Ang’s character arc was less arc-like and more building. She’s in a strange place, no longer welcome in a place she used to dwell, no longer part of the steeplejacks, but not part of any other class either. She finds herself facing tougher challenges, ones that make her question exactly who she is at heart. I can’t wait for the next book to see how her character develops more.

Told with a clear voice, emotional intensity, and heart-racing political plots that reveal the best and worst of humanity, FIREBRAND is an unforgettable installment in a mystery series that is sure to capture hearts.

Originally posted at The Forest of Words and Pages: http://www.forestofwordsandpages.com/...
1,518 reviews7 followers
July 5, 2017
I think I may have enjoyed this better than the first. While others may disagree I found the intermingling of the action with the social justice message to work pretty well. Plus the action, creepy characters, well the gargoyle is a little cheesy I will admit but over all a solid.
Profile Image for Kate.
1,197 reviews15 followers
September 9, 2017
A fun steampunk adventure that is also a mystery novel. (Although I could have done without )

I'm sure I shall read the next book, and I would recommend the series to my fellow steampunk fans.
Profile Image for Jolie Rice.
124 reviews
February 12, 2021
Just as good as the first, this convoluted plot manages to make sense the entire time, and you have no idea how everything going to come together until it does. Another great murder mystery that has you on the edge of your seat the entire time.
Profile Image for Syntha Green.
2,706 reviews17 followers
December 19, 2017
This was an excellent sequel, and very timely issues are threaded throughout - the plight of refugees, white supremacists, etc.
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