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Steel Crow Saga

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Four destinies collide in a unique fantasy world of war and wonders, where empire is won with enchanted steel and magical animal companions fight alongside their masters in battle.

A soldier with a curse
Tala lost her family to the empress’s army and has spent her life avenging them in battle. But the empress’s crimes don’t haunt her half as much as the crimes Tala has committed against the laws of magic... and her own flesh and blood.

A prince with a debt
Jimuro has inherited the ashes of an empire. Now that the revolution has brought down his kingdom, he must depend on Tala to bring him home safe. But it was his army who murdered her family. Now Tala will be his redemption—or his downfall.

A detective with a grudge
Xiulan is an eccentric, pipe-smoking detective who can solve any mystery—but the biggest mystery of all is her true identity. She’s a princess in disguise, and she plans to secure her throne by presenting her father with the ultimate prize: the world’s most wanted prince.

A thief with a broken heart
Lee is a small-time criminal who lives by only one law: Leave them before they leave you. But when Princess Xiulan asks her to be her partner in crime—and offers her a magical animal companion as a reward—she can’t say no, and soon finds she doesn’t want to leave the princess behind.

This band of rogues and royals should all be enemies, but they unite for a common purpose: to defeat an unstoppable killer who defies the laws of magic. In this battle, they will forge unexpected bonds of friendship and love that will change their lives—and begin to change the world.

517 pages, Hardcover

First published September 24, 2019

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About the author

Paul Krueger

8 books388 followers
Paul Krueger is a fantasy author and lapsed Chicagoan currently living in Los Angeles. His bartending-and-magic debut novel, LAST CALL AT THE NIGHTSHADE LOUNGE, was published by Quirk Books in June of 2016. His next, STEEL CROW SAGA, is forthcoming in fall of 2019 from Del Rey Books.

His non-writing hobbies include cooking, D&D, karaoke, and collecting comics. He's also a musician, fronting the Adventure Time-themed punk band Lemonbadd.

If found, Paul should be returned to DongWon Song of Howard Morhaim Literary.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 853 reviews
Profile Image for Petrik.
664 reviews41.2k followers
April 26, 2020
ARC provided by the publisher—Gollancz—in exchange for an honest review.

4.5/5 stars

Multi-cultural, diverse characters & superbly character-driven narrative; Steel Crow Saga is a brilliant Asian/anime-inspired fantasy.

As an Asian who loves watching anime and reading mangas and SFF novels, Steel Crow Saga is a novel that felt as if it was written for me. Steel Crow Saga has been published for more than a month now, and I feel like I’ve sinned—Sloth—for postponing reading this book. Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood is one of my favorite anime of all time (seriously, watch the anime if you haven’t) and I also love Pokemon and Avatar: The Last Airbender; these three are the most dominant anime inspirations imbued into Steel Crow Saga. I REALLY would’ve read this book months ago, and I did have the chance to do that because I received the eARC from Gollancz in August. But here’s the thing, the eARC I received was so terribly formatted—it didn’t even include the entire prologue, for one—that I had to give up reading through it 15% in. Thankfully, what I’ve read so far back then was enough to solidify my decision to wait and read the finished copy instead. I’m super pleased that I made this decision; the wait was worth it because this is an amazing Anime/Asian-inspired fantasy book that’s worth reading without any hindrance.

“All the books in the world will never convey the technical realities of a procedure.”

Although Steel Crow Saga is marked as the first book of a series, do know that it is very much a standalone story; there’s no cliffhanger with the main stories whatsoever. The main plot revolves around four main characters: Tala, Jimuro, Xiulan, and Lee. Not only the four main characters have different roles in the story, but they also came from different countries that are deeply inspired by Asian countries in our real world. Tala is a soldier from Sanbu (Phillippines), Jimuro is a prince from Tomoda (Japanese), Xiulan is a detective from Shang (China), and Lee is a thief from Jeongson (Korea). As I mentioned at the beginning of my review, or maybe you’ve heard of it, Steel Crow Saga is enriched by both Anime and Asian inspirations; it makes for a refreshing read for me because incredible Asian-inspired fantasy novels are, in my opinion, relatively harder to find. I think Krueger did an awesome job writing this book; Steel Crow Saga is a book about what happened after the big war, a story about the neverending cycle of hatred caused by it, a story about forgiveness, and it’s a book that has everything readers usually love in their character-driven fantasy read. Do note that it’s better to not expect a fast-paced storyline, as per the case of the majority of character-driven fantasy, Krueger takes his time to progress the main story by making sure the characterizations and personality were on-point first, which he did spectacularly.

“Sanbuna lore had countless monsters, but the worst of them wore a human face.”

I���ve said this countless times before, but character-driven stories are my favorite type of novels to read. I loved that the book is slow-paced; I loved that the author takes his time to prioritize the characterizations foremost, making sure that I care about their journeys, feelings, struggles, and moral dilemmas. The characterizations given to the main characters were nothing short of incredible; it was rewarding to witness the characters’ development, both in attitudes and relationships. Furthermore, there were many passages that I found to be relatable. This one for example:

“He took off his glasses and polished them with the end of his tie. She found it striking, how odd the sight was to her. She knew they were an artificial addition to his face, but that didn’t change the fact that he looked incomplete without them.”

I feel seen through this little snippet; I’ve been wearing glasses for almost the entirety of my life, and I’m not kidding when I say that it has become a part of me and my look. I must say that I’m quite surprised by how few people mentioned Full Metal Alchemist inspiration in their review of this book; the inspirations were everywhere. For example, Tala and Dimangan's familial relationship reminded me of the Elric brothers in Full Metal Alchemist. Unfortunately, I can’t explain in detail as to why because I don’t want to spoil those who haven’t watched the anime masterpiece, which you really should. Moreover, there’s this obvious nod to the anime that filled me with glee:

“Lieutenant Riza, Special Division,” she said, borrowing the name from her hawk-eyed firing instructor.”

Picture: Riza Hawkeye from Full Metal Alchemist

Plus, there’s a city called Hagane in this book. Hagane is “metal” in Japanese, and Full Metal Alchemist in Japan is called Hagane no Renkinjutsushi. Alright, I’m going to stop talking about Full Metal Alchemist inspirations here otherwise I risk expanding this review even longer than it already is; this entire review is just a long way of me saying “yes, read Steel Crow Saga and also watch Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood please.”

The other two dominant anime inspirations that made this book more impressive were Pokemon and Avatar: The Last Airbender. Do you love reading about fantasy books that have animal companions in it? I do. Well, Krueger leveled it up by making these animal companions come in magic form called Shade, and a certain set of people in this book can Shadepact—creating a special bond with these magical animals and making them appear by calling their names, just like how it is in Pokemon. The second magic system is called Metalpact—bending/control metal to their will.

“He was Tomodanese, and with metal in hand his people could work terrible miracles.”

The magic systems were simple, easy to understand, and yet they also made the book, especially its actions, so much more entertaining. As I’ve mentioned before, Steel Crow Saga may be slow-paced and heavy on characterizations, but please don’t misunderstand this statement; there’s still plenty of well-written action sequences to be found in this book. The climax sequences, in particular, were intensely gripping and emotional. Combining the best of both magic and steel, Krueger crafted a concluding battle scene that ended Steel Crow Saga impactfully and satisfyingly.

Before I close this review, I would like to praise Krueger on his Asian-inspiration world-building. Krueger is a Filipino-American author, and I’m not Filipino so I won’t claim to understand all the traditions and culture around it. The people of Dahal, if I’m not mistaken, is based on Indian. As for the other Asian countries’ traditions, languages, foods, and cultures that I’m more familiar with, I have to say that Krueger did a great job of implementing them into his world-building while making sure that this is still a fantasy book. Let’s take a look at this:

“A Tomodanese surname for her was a tricky thing, since the Tomodanese language didn’t have an L sound.”

In our real-world, the Japanese (Tomodanese in this book) language has the same rule applied. If I were to say my surname “Leo,” in Japanese it would be “Reo.” Then for the people of Shang (China), they called their little sister “meimei” (Chinese for little sister) and their big sister “jiejie” (Chinese for big sister. However, the usage of language isn’t the only thing that Krueger included, even the way the characters behave and the clothing the main characters wear respectively were simply on-point. Additionally, the variety of Asian food and beverages such as soju, kimchi, soba, gochujang, mapo tofu, adobo, etc and the way they’re consumed also enhanced the authenticity of the Asian-inspired world-building.

Powerfully fueled by a palpable passion for anime, fantasy and everything Asian, Steel Crow Saga by Paul Krueger is a magnificently entertaining book you don’t want to miss reading. If you’ve been craving for an Asian/anime-inspired fantasy, or maybe character-driven fantasy in general, with on-point characterizations, I don’t see how you’ll go wrong with giving Steel Crow Saga a read.

Both the US & UK editions—especially the US edition that’s illustrated by Chun Lo—has gorgeous cover art; I’m going to procure myself a physical copy as soon as I’m able.

You can order the book from: Book Depository (Free shipping)

You can find this and the rest of my reviews at Novel Notions
Profile Image for Melissa ♥ Dog/Wolf Lover ♥ Martin.
3,405 reviews9,541 followers
June 3, 2019
This effing book broke me in half and made me soar!!

Just when I’m down about reading, I find a freaking gem! This book is like nothing I have ever read before and it gave me all of the feels!!

I love every single one of these characters immensely!

What reeled me in from the summary was the animal stuff. I mean those who know me could have figured that one out! But there is so much more to this story and it ripped my heart out.

The book is about family, war, vengeance, bonding with animals and things, heartbreak and a bit of comedy thrown in for good measure.

Bottom line, I loved it so very much!!

*Thank you to Netgalley and the Pub for a digital copy of this wonderful book.*

I must totter off now and pre-order my physical copy!

Happy Reading!

Mel 🖤🐶🐺🐾

Profile Image for jessica.
2,509 reviews31k followers
September 8, 2019
pierce brown tweeted about this book, and his word is law as far as i am concerned, so i went and tracked down a copy as fast as i could. and you should, too!

many reviews are saying this story is pokemon meets avatar: the last airbender. and as i read this, i could sort of see where they got that idea, but i dont think really think the similarities are strong enough to pitch this story as such. this is wildly imaginative in its own right and hard to compare to anything else. its unique and quite unlike anything else i have read before.

while shadepacts (soul bonds between animals and humans) and the political discord created because of different views on the matter are the driving forces for the novel, what really sold me is the connection between the characters. particularly tala and her brother. my gosh, i got so emotional during some parts. the relationship between these two and how it impacts the overall story is such a high point and one i hope every reader will be able to appreciate. but there are so many great characters with so much representation, its difficult not to connect with at least one of them.

so mark your calendar for september 26th, because you are gonna want to get your hands on this!

a MASSIVE thanks to paul krueger and the wonderful people at penguin random house for sending me an ARC after i begged for one. you guys are the real MVP!

4 stars
Profile Image for Thomas.
1,426 reviews8,331 followers
June 20, 2020
EDIT 6.20.2020: Hi all, unfortunately I have to retract my support of this book because several women have come forward on Twitter stating that he is a serial harasser. I believe these women. I don't have much more to say so for a more eloquent and thorough statement please see Sahlea's statement.

Original Review:

Okay, I’m surprised that my Goodreads hive mind (that’s ya’ll, ya’ll are the best) hadn’t alerted me to this book iconic book earlier. Steel Crow Saga is a super queer Asian-inspired young-adult fantasy novel that blends elements of Avatar: The Last Airbender and Pokémon. That description sets the bar high and Paul Krueger delivers. In his sophomore book, he writes from the perspectives of four characters whose respective nations are representative of China, Japan, the Philippines, and Korea. Some are rogues and some are royals, each with distinct voices and desires, such as to avenge fallen family members who died in war or to secure the throne of their country. These characters’ paths crisscross until they all unite against one common enemy who possesses the power to tear all of their worlds asunder.

I love how this book addresses dark and heavy topics while still feeling so compulsively readable, which did remind me of what it felt like to watch Avatar: The Last Airbender. Krueger shows the effects of imperialism from the vantage points of both the colonizer and the colonized, ranging from the privilege that comes with systemic power to the psychological trauma that accompanies seeing your loved ones slaughtered. His characters though almost bounce off the page with their charismatic personalities and their witty, funny dialogue and distinct characteristics. Our four main characters, Xiulan, Lee, Tala, and Jimuro each have well-written personal motivations as well as unique perspectives, which helps keep the stakes high and the plot moving. After reading this book for only a little while I felt this sense of trust with Krueger, that he knew these characters well, that he cared about them, and that he put forth every effort possible for us to connect with them as well – which paid off, such that I did tear up during the final fight scene in the novel.

The only constructive critique I have toward this book is that the development of Tala and Jimuro’s relationship felt a bit rushed or forced. Though I love how their last interaction in the novel allows for more breathing room and more time to heal, which felt much more authentic, I think the quickness of their relationship forming when they first met – especially given the extent to which they could or should have opposed one another – took me out of the narrative a bit.

Overall, highly recommended for those who want a young adult fantasy with lots of LGBT representation, including a f/f couple, a couple of bisexual characters (though one could be pansexual, I’m not entirely sure), and a trans major, though not main character. I hope this novel gets the attention that white queer stories do (yep that’s me being petty) because it deserves it. Thank you to my bff Natasha for recommending Steel Crow Saga and Goodreads friends please send me any and all queer POC books you’d recommend or want me to read and review.
Profile Image for Silvia .
635 reviews1,387 followers
June 20, 2020
I never wrote a full review here but I have recommended this book loudly and vocally for months. I now want to just as loudly rescind my support of the author and of his book.

Believe victims always.
Profile Image for Zainab.
382 reviews482 followers
September 12, 2019
ARC provided by netgalley

Okay it's not bad but it's gotten extremely boring and I can't read any further. The starts great and all and I'm sure loads of you will enjoy it.
Maybe I'd try it some other time.
Profile Image for jade.
489 reviews283 followers
September 22, 2020
“sanbuna lore had countless monsters, but the worst of them wore a human face.”

highly entertaining and eventually heart-wrenching modern fantasy centering on the aftermath of war.

steel crow saga is set in an industrialized world in which a number of countries are slowly recovering from the repercussions of imperialism and colonization. at the heart of the story are four main characters who all take on a POV at some point, and show some great character arcs and growth throughout.

considering how character-driven this novel is, i’ll take a moment to describe each of them.

first up: sergeant tala, a young woman who’s been fighting in the resistance of sanbu ever since she could pick up a gun. the only manner of existence she knows is war; always ready to fight, always ready to die. it’s the only thing that’s still holding her together, even once the war is officially over.

tala is stuck with the task of escorting jimuro, the only surviving royal member of the tomoda empire, home safely. bookish, stuck-up, and painfully removed from his country’s role in the war, he’s being used as a pawn by sanbu -- save his life, put him on the throne, and ensure peace rather than possibly kickstart tomoda’s oppressive regime once more.

hot on tala and jimuro’s heels is xiulan, a self-styled detective with a flair for theatrics. 28th in line for the shang throne, xiulan wants to prove to her family that she is worth considering as a ruler. her plan? delivering jimuro straight into her father’s hands.

in order to do so, she enlists the help of lee, a quick-fingered thief from jeongson -- a country long oppressed by tomoda and shang both. lee cares about very little other than money and freedom and as she tags along with xiulan, she’s not afraid to mouth her off.

throw some gimmicky magic of summoning soulpacted animals or manipulating metal into the mix, and you’ve got a surprisingly engaging cross-country roadtrip that’s great for bonding, recovering from psychological trauma, and examining the complex issues of colonialism.

this is a fun, nuanced book with a bit of a young adult-ish vibe.

its world is truly a modern fantasy universe: we go a bit beyond the gaslamp stuff of guns and trains and move up all the way to cars, movies, telephones, etc.

a lot of the book’s pagecount is spent on the intricacies of the cultures of the four main countries in this book: sanbu, based on the philippines; shang, based on china; jeongson, based on korea; and tomoda, based on japan. krueger has got this down flat -- from mouth-watering descriptions of various dishes to subtle ways of how etiquette, language, and customs have formed our four protagonists.

it makes the world feel all the more rich and believable.

i’ve seen some people mention how it’s lazy as it’s taken directly from countries existing in our world -- all that makes me do is raise my eyebrow and think about the TONS of highly-praised, classic fantasy that also takes directly from, uhm, i don’t know; how about the english countryside…?

anyway! the plotting of this story is good enough to give its characters an incentive to move towards an end goal, but the true heart lies in how they develop.

the story starts out with two main pairs: tala and jimuro, awkwardly navigating the roles of freedom fighter and former colonizer. and then there’s xiulan and lee, masters of witty banter and flying by the seats of their pants, who hide a lot of pain and heart underneath humor and deflection.

and it’s great to see all of them grow: especially jimuro and xiulan, the more privileged of the two. they start out with borderline offensive and hurtful ideas about tala’s and lee’s cultures and way of living. and it’s not just a cheap, quick Redemption Arc™ that’s thrown around here for either of them; the process takes time and has many layers, which gives a genuine weight to the growth of these characters.

i greatly admire krueger’s ability to underline the necessity of acknowledging the horror of an imperialist system and not walking away from your crimes by taking responsibility for them -- while also examining the trauma and pain from the point of view of someone who’s part of that imperialist/colonist regime.

it’s the individual versus the systemic issues, and it was done in a way that opened up dialogue while still recognizing injustice.

and despite its heavy themes, this book managed to be FUN. its characters are very charismatic (even when awkward), and dialogue had a lot of chuckle-moments for me personally.

krueger has cited anime series as a big inspiration, and i see a lot of people compare this book to avatar: the last airbender and fullmetal alchemist. both of which do heavy themes with comedic moments really well, without inviting tone inconsistency to the party. this book definitely has that same strength while firmly rooted in asian mythology and cultures.

if i had to criticize something, it would be the magic system. it’s flashy and awesome, but it’s not explained as deeply as i would’ve liked. people’s in-world perceptions of it were well-done, but other than that it didn’t seem very integrated or consistent to me. it felt a tiny bit tacked on for The Cool Factor or to serve as a Plot Point for a certain character.

and though the book tackles mature themes, you can still see the aforementioned anime inspirations, which can at times ramp it up to a more young adult and tropey level. which, if unappreciated, might come across as juvenile.

also, if you can’t connect to its four main characters, you’re likely going to have a bad time. the story moves slowly, and spends a big amount of time setting up characters rather than focusing on tight plotting.

i’ll end on a high note: this book is great in terms of lgbtqia+ representation. seriously, it’s gay as hell. out of the four main characters, we have two bi- or pansexual characters, one lesbian, and one character who remains unconfirmed. there’s also a trans side character, a brief reference to neutral pronouns, and an f/f romance (as well as an utter lack of a heteronormative society).

all in all, a lovely example of diverse fantasy storytelling.

3.5 stars.
Profile Image for Angelica.
805 reviews1,068 followers
Want to read
August 20, 2020
Thanks to Leigh Bardugo, I am now strangely drawn to any book with the word 'crow' in the title. Let's see how this goes...
Profile Image for Alexa.
2,116 reviews11.1k followers
June 20, 2020
[Update: I read this novel prior to the allegations that came to light in June 2020 regarding this author’s harassment and gaslighting of POC in the industry, and want to make it clear that I do not support or condone that behavior. I’m rescinding my rating as well as my initial review that originally went up here in August 2019.]
Profile Image for April (Aprilius Maximus).
1,089 reviews6,595 followers
May 10, 2020
“We all have such finite time, even when the spirits are kind.”

representation: own voices asian inspired (author is Filipino), asian inspired worlds and characters (Sanbu Islands = Phillipines inspired; Tomoda = Japanese inspired; Shang = Chinese inspired; Jeongson = Korean inspired; Dahal = Indian inspired)
Queer characters (gay, bi, lesbian, trans), f/f relationship, m/m relationship.

[trigger warnings are listed at the bottom of this review and may contain spoilers]


Even though I really, really enjoyed this, I have to admit I was a little disappointed because I was expecting this to get 5 stars and be a new all-time-fave, but alas!

We'll start with the things I loved:
- the avatar and pokemon inspired elements (avatar and pokemon were both HUGE parts of my childhood). We had the avatar influence (metalpacting = metalbending) and the pokemon influence (shadepacting = bond between the souls of human and animal) which I LOVED. There was also a super interesting discussion on whether enslaving another creature's spirit is okay or not (ever since I became an adult I always felt kinda icky about this with pokemon).
- THE CHARACTERS. omg i'm OBSESSED with Lee & Jimuro. Lee is SO badass and Jimuro reminded me so much of Zuko from ATLA!!

Things that kinda didn't work for me:
- the fact that this is more of an urban fantasy (has technology and cars and such) and my preferred fantasy is more of an ancient feeling world.
- it was kind of dense. a lot of the time i found myself not really wanting to pick it up even though when i was reading it, i was enjoying myself.
- the fact that the only trans character was lowkey a villain??? lame.

overall, i definitely recommend this one, it just wasn't a new favourite, unfortunately! :(

trigger warnings: colonisation, genocide, gun violence, loss of loved ones, war themes, mention of suicide, gore, a literal giant spider (ron weasley would hate that scene lol), injured animals, lots and lots and lots of violence.
Profile Image for Shealea.
430 reviews1,193 followers
June 22, 2020
Edit (as of 22 June 2020):
In line with my statement regarding the harassment allegations involving Paul Krueger, I am rescinding my support of Steel Crow Saga and the rest of his books. I have removed my rating accordingly, and I no longer recommend this book.


Note: I am an #ownvoices reviewer for the Filipino representation in this book.


I am not exaggerating when I say that, in less than 10 pages, I immediately noticed that Steel Crow Saga directly pulls from Filipino culture (which was an extremely delightful surprise on my part as a Filipino). I am also not exaggerating when I say that, in less than 10 pages, I effortlessly fell in love with the world-building and all its wonderfully rich nuances. Specifically, within a world that’s quite reminiscent of our 1920s to 1930s era (wherein technology like cars, telephones, and radio exist), there are five nations — all of which are either loosely or heavily inspired by existing Asian cultures.

• Tomodanese (from Tomoda) – Coded after the Japanese.
• Sanbunas (from Sanbu Islands, which is later renamed as Republic of Sanbu) – Coded after Filipinos.
• Shang (from the Kingdom of Shang) – Coded after the Chinese.
• Jeongsonese (from Jeongson, which is a vassal state of Shang) – Coded after the Koreans.
• Dahali (from Dahal) – Coded after South Asians.

While there is certainly a generous sense of realism in its world-building, it also provokes tugs of heartwarming nostalgia. With strong vibes of Avatar: Legend of Korra (think about its setting and atmosphere) and Pokemon-esque companions, Steel Crow Saga is a loving ode to and glorious celebration of anime, which will probably steer many readers into reminiscing their favorite shows and unearthing their dusty videogame consoles.


In creating a fictional world where queerness is normalized and inspiration is taken from real-life Asian cultures, Steel Crow Saga unsurprisingly provides a huge, unapologetically diverse cast of well-developed characters — all of whom are fascinating and compelling on their own individual merits. Even characters with major roles are casually queer (e.g. trans, gay) and come across as well-rounded, as if they have entire backstories just waiting to be revealed. The story’s unfolding is chiefly narrated by four main characters with differing (if not, occasionally conflicting) agenda, motivations, and personal demons.


It comes as no surprise that Steel Crow Saga delves into the intricacies of colonialism, but what is both remarkable and valuable about Krueger’s approach is that the attack happens on both sides. The story examines the war and its aftermath from the perspectives of both the colonizer and the colonized, which results in a wonderfully nuanced and thorough critique of colonialism. Jimuro and Xiulan are extremely privileged and sheltered characters who are complicit to the horrific abuses and oppression unleashed by the two powerful conqueror nations (Tomoda and Shang, respectively). Given their uncomfortable position as colonizers, they have large blind spots in their perspectives of the war, which are repeatedly challenged, and they are forced to reconcile with the decades’ worth of blood on their hands. In contrast, Tala and Lee are victims who have suffered great losses from colonial power and yet they, too, are occasionally blinded by their own prejudices.

Arguably, Steel Crow Saga challenges, to some extent, the notion that there are winners and losers in war by shedding light on the casualties and sufferings experienced on both sides. It also addresses the critical role of hatred and prejudice in the cycle of violence. If I’m being honest, the dissection of colonialism, together with the recurring emphasis on restorative justice and active decolonization, that happens in Steel Crow Saga strongly resonated with me in a way that I have never, ever experienced from any other literature.

On a much lighter note, from the frequent repartee among the characters to the careful phrasings interwoven into the narrative, there is a generous amount of humor and laugh-out-loud wit sprinkled throughout the story. Moreover, there are also beautiful moments of lightheartedness and spiritedness that provide much-needed respites from the more hard-hitting themes and gritty portrayals.


Steel Crow Saga is defiantly political. Nevertheless, it also touches on more individual- centered themes, such as personal ambition and vengeance, healing and forgiveness, and learning and unlearning. Another recurring theme that I personally found compelling is the idea of doing things to honor the memory of the loved ones we’ve lost.

Moreover, through the deliberate use of details – from contrasting philosophies about cuisine, to varying preferences in architectural design, to tiny nuances of rituals and ceremonies — Steel Crow Saga heavily emphasizes on cultural differences and how the complex interactions of different cultures can lead to all sorts of tension and conflict, such as microaggressions and open hostility.

Kruger’s writing style is powerfully evocative and highly intelligent. From his notable command of the language to his careful use of literary devices, it is evident that every word in this 500-page book is a deliberate choice and lends purpose to the grander narratives explored and examined within the story. At the same time, while the book certainly reflects the identity and cultural heritage of the author (note: Krueger is Filipino-American), its writing allows a few glimpses into Krueger’s personality and sense of humor as well. Thus, Steel Crow Saga is a unique, impactful story that is undeniably written with heart, but also with clear intention.


Although inspiration is clearly drawn from numerous well-loved franchises and existing Asian cultures, Steel Crow Saga is more than able to stand on its own as a unique and captivating fantasy adventure that offers a balanced mix of hilarious wit and social commentary. Its story revolves around the personal quests of each character against the backdrop of a hugely fragile, post-war world that is threatened by larger political forces. At its heart, however, Steel Crow Saga imparts a story about hope, healing, and justice. This stand-alone epic fantasy has easily claimed a spot on my favorite books, and I will undoubtedly, lovingly scream about Steel Crow Saga until my lungs completely collapse.
Profile Image for Carrie.
3,092 reviews1,509 followers
September 21, 2021
Steel Crow Saga by Paul Krueger is a standalone young adult epic fantasy. And of course my review is going to come with yet another warning label that this is probably a case of the old saying of it’s not you, it’s me as I do seem to be in the minority on this one yet again.

So Steel Crow Saga is a magical fantasy with four different characters, Tala, Jimuro, Xiulan and Lee, the soldier, prince, detective, and thief that of course cross paths and must work together to save the world. There’s of course different kingdoms at war and the one standout was the magic, somehow by making a pact between a human and animal by trading souls.

Anyway, for me of course as anyone who has followed my reviews may have heard before I found that the story just simply dragged at a slow pace and this usually causes me to lose interest early on. I’m not sure why some fantasies novels I fall in love with and others only seem to bore me no matter how hard I try but this one unfortunately just wasn’t for me. As I said though it’s not the characters or story but simply too slow for me to like in the end so if it sounds good to you I’d say give it a try.

I received an advance copy from the publisher via NetGalley.

For more reviews please visit https://carriesbookreviews.com/
Profile Image for Shaun Hutchinson.
Author 25 books4,596 followers
March 3, 2020
Loved it. I wasn’t sure about the idea at first, but I was quickly drawn in. Great characters, great world building, super queer.
Profile Image for charlotte,.
3,049 reviews807 followers
August 9, 2019
If my people run from the horror of what we’ve done, in time we would forget. And if we forget, we might one day do it again. Your peoples do not have the luxury of forgetting how you’ve suffered.

On my blog.

Rep: Asian inspired characters and settings (China, Japan, and I think India, Philippines & Korea maybe), female and male bi mcs, lesbian mc, gay side character (fairly major), mlm trans side character (fairly major)

Galley provided by publisher

This is probably the best book I have read this year. Yes, I’ve read over 200 at this point, yes, I’ve read some excellent books (mostly sequels), but this book. This book. I knew from the first few pages that this was going to be a 5-star read, it’s that good.

Steel Crow Saga is set in the aftermath of a revolution. The combined forces of Shang, Sanbuna and Dahal have fought and defeated their coloniser, Tomoda. But now they have to make this fragile peace permanent. For the past three years, the now sole remaining heir to the Empire, Jimuro, has been imprisoned by Sanbuna, but he is now the hope for peace. So, Tala is tasked with escorting him to Tomoda. Meanwhile, Lee and Xiulan, two investigators, are on Jimuro’s trail, themselves hoping to bring him in and gain the Shang Emperor’s respect.

First and foremost, the best thing about this book is the characters and their development. The four major characters are: Lee, a thief who’s learnt only to look out for herself; Xiulan, a Shang Princess looking to prove herself; Tala, the warrior tasked with protecting her greatest enemy; and Jimuro, the next ruler of Tomoda whose life rests solely in the hands of those who despise him most. So already we’re set up with some fascinating and flawed characters. Recently, I feel like I’ve been reading a lot of books where the characters can be summed up in a single word. Not so here. They’re wonderfully fully fleshed-out, you could be right there with them they feel so realistic. And they get some excellent character development. Especially Jimuro. Gotta cop to never having seen Avatar: The Last Airbender here, but I’ve picked up enough about it to know that Jimuro gets a Zuko-esque redemption arc. Not some cop-out where he has a single heroic deed and is thus forgiven, but an arc where he works towards changing himself and his country. And the other three mains get similarly amazing development as well.

Secondly, the worldbuilding is just epic. If you liked the kind of worldbuilding that Jade City and The Poppy War presented you with, fantasy allegories for real-life countries and events, then this book will be right up your alley. If you like the kind of steampunk fantasy that Fullmetal Alchemist gives you, again, this book is for you. If you want a magic system that’s something like if you crossed FMA with Pokémon (go with it), then this book is most definitely for you. And if you’ve never seen or read any of those, or didn’t particularly like them, read the book anyway. Trust me you won’t regret it. It’s a book that’s been getting a lot of comparisons to anime, and that’s exactly right (also, it would make the most epic anime, but I digress).

I feel like I’ve rambled on a lot here, but there’s no easy way to express how much I love this book. It’s 600+ pages and I read the bulk of it in a couple of hours because I just couldn’t put it down. I had to force myself to go to bed instead of just finishing it like I wanted to. I can’t remember the last time I felt like that about a book (probably a couple of months back, if we’re honest), but this book was one of the best reading experiences I’ve ever had. Truly.

Which means, you should absolutely go and preorder this, and then wait impatiently for September to come.
Profile Image for Emetis.
97 reviews33 followers
September 22, 2020
Buddy read with my amazing friend Naomi Waters! Thank you for reading this book with me.

Well, this was an unexpectedly enjoyable read.

Going into this book, I wasn’t expecting much to be honest. I’ve heard some people say that this book is a mix of Pokémon and avatar the last airbender and the latter sold it for me.
It didn’t have much atla vibes to it though.
The four kingdoms could be interpreted as the “four nations” but other than that they were nothing alike. No one had elemental powers but they did however own creatures with whom they’ve shared their soul with.

This does not however erase the fact that I had an amazing time reading this. I never imagined myself enjoying a fantasy that is heavily focused on politics. But reading this, was very refreshing.

The author not only managed to make this book diverse but he also managed to make the plot interesting enough that you didn’t necessarily need a character development in order to fully enjoy reading it.
This book is plot driven and although the characters do go through some character development it is not the kind of character development that we are normally used to.

For me the most interesting character was Jimuro, the prince, who in my opinion went through the most character development in the book.
Someone who managed to stop being prejudice towards the other kingdoms. Someone who in the end accepted the other kingdoms’ traditions and ways of living, who realized that it were his people who were at fault and was courageous enough to admit to it.

The representations in this book were *chef’s kiss* top notch!
I loved how there were bisexual, transgender, lesbian representations in it. This really separated it from the other books that I’ve read.

All in all, I absolutely enjoyed this book and would definitely recommend it!
Profile Image for Samm | Sassenach the Book Wizard.
1,144 reviews244 followers
February 20, 2020
Okay I can't for the life of me put together a good summary of this book. There's just so much going on, In a rare twist, I think my favourite part of this book was the wrap up...where authors notoriously let me down. It's cool, it's complex, it can be dense at some parts but I overall really enjoyed this
Profile Image for Fadwa (Word Wonders).
543 reviews3,551 followers
May 21, 2020
TW: violence, death, dismemberment, murder, mind control

this book! THIS BOOK!! THIS BOOOOOOOOOK!!! There was so much packed into it that i will most definitely struggled doing the usual concise goodreads review so i'm tempted to be a coward and just NOT do it at all.

First of all, in case that wasn't obvious, I loved it. I need to sit with it for a little bit but this book is a VERY strong contender for my top ten books of the year. I took me a little while to get through, just because in the first 20 to 30% there's SO much packed into it that I just needed to read it slow and absorb everything, but after than my reading pace started picking up again and I FLEW through the second half. So, when they tell you this book is a mix of ATLA and Pokémon, they do not lie one bit, Steel Crow Saga has the vibes of both with a more mature feel to it because of the complex politics weaved through. All of it was so seamless and well balance that I found myself hooked into the story from very early on. The brilliant commentary on colonialism, the lasting effects of it, the complicated feelings it leaves in its people, who's responsible for it, and SO MUCH MORE of it is explored and with so much nuance that I couldn't help but be fascinated by the dynamics between not only the countries as a whole but also by the different main characters, each of which is from a different country that has been colonized/has colonized in one way or another and how the blame shifts and transforms depending on the point of view.

All the countries in this book are inspired by Asian countries, mainly China (Shang), Sanbu (the Philippines), Tomuda (Japan), Jeonseon (Taiwan, I think because the parallels drawn with Shang) and Dahal (India), which our four main character being Xiulan, a princess/inspector, Tala, a soldier, Jimuro, a prince and Lee, a thief from the first four respectively. And seeing how these four's fates intersects, how they interact, sympathize and come to even care for and love each other on a journey that puts their lives at peril so many times over, was along with the politics, my favorite part of the book. The characters were so well crafted, given distinct voices that made them jump off the page.

I can't pick a favorite character, especially between Lee and Xiulan, because as amazing as they are individually they are phenomenal as a pair and the reluctant romance between them was just an added bonus on top. also, did I mention it's sapphic? Like HELLA GAY! And I LIVED for it. Not to say I didn't love Jimuro x Tala as well, the hate to friendship to ? between them made my heart go so soft, because of just on how bad of terms they started, it made the progression and the emotional journey that got them to where they got all the more rewarding.

The casual queerness among the cast also made my heart sing: Lee is bi, Xiulan is a lesbian and Jimuro is pan and it's all such a non-issue, such a normalized part of this world that it made my heart sing. There was also a trans side character that we see in a few scenes and I just loved how casual it all was, okay? we need more books to be doing this.

I just. I don't know how to sum up the thoughts that are colliding inside my brain, because there's so much more I want to say and I'm not sure how to say it. I loved all the underlying commentary deconstructing how multilayered international conflicts that span generations can be, how at the end of the day, the people who suffer most are the citizens no matter the sides. And the ultimate message of hope, of these characters genuinely wanting to be better and do better for future generations.

Just read this book, PLEASE.
Profile Image for laurel [the suspected bibliophile].
1,370 reviews376 followers
June 17, 2021
The war may be over, but the victors will reap the spoils...if they can get them.

Tala may hate the Iron Prince, but she's bound by duty to bring him to his homeland and put him on the throne. Except there is a splintersoul on their trail, intent on murdering her, Jimuro and everyone else in his path. And following behind them all are detective Xiulan and her new partner, the small-time criminal Lee.

The four are bound to meet—but can they keep it together long enough to defeat the new evil that wants them all dead?

Holy. Shit.

This book is my everything.

I loved it. The world-building is *chef's kiss*, the characters are amazing, and the plot was a nonstop action ride. And the humor.

All of the reviews I've read raved about how amazing it was, but they never mentioned how motherfucking funny it is. Dark humor, just the way I like it.

Lee trying to bond with the first animal she finds, a fighting rooster:
The rooster took her encouragement well, because Lee felt the connection between them open wider. I want to bathe in the blood of my enemies beneath the cold and unfeeling moon Lee stopped dead. Uh, what?

Then the rooster is like, yeah I can see that we are on different levels here and jumps out a window. It. Is. Hilarious.

And it drops some serious truth bombs that are oddly never mentioned when you have all of these long-distance group journeys.

Shades take her. She was staring down a three-day drive with the Iron Prince of Tomoda and no coffee.

But after two (non-consecutive) days on foot, Jimuro could admit: Walking sucked.

And also just plain #facts:

"My mother once told me that people who don't use their turn signals are people who spit on the spirits and deserve to be shunned by their ancestors after death."

However, in addition to the humor there is a lot of just plain amazingness, and I fell in love with each of the main characters (and a certain special fifth character), and I probably cried at the end because I was so filled with happiness and sorrow for them.

The world reminded me a little bit of Jade City, in that there were groups of people who drew power from stonish objects in an urban fantasy Asian-inspired world with lots of post-colonialism, but unlike Jade City, there were no white people. Everyone was a person of color, and there was a shit ton of queer rep (actually, I think just about everyone was queer).

It was a sheer delight to read, and Krueger is definitely an author I'm going to watch—and I hope that there's going to be a sequel and that that sequel gets announced soon!

This is absolutely incredible and everyone must read it now.

Profile Image for lady h.
639 reviews181 followers
August 16, 2019
Hats off to what is one of the best books I've read all year. Let me tell you: I've been in a really weird slump where I'm reading things and kind of enjoying them but not really loving anything, and then came along this book. Not to be dramatic, but it literally reminded me why I love reading. There are some books you can sink into with such relish that you forget you're reading, and you're just along for the ride. Steel Crow Saga is that book.

→ plot & pacing ←

I was hooked from the very first page, which is saying something because the book starts with a prologue. But there was something about the writing style that just drew me in immediately. And then the story began, and it moved at a breakneck pace, especially in the beginning. Even as we were getting introduced to new characters and a new world, the plot sprinted along.

→ characters ←

GOD. I loved all four main characters here so much. Do you know how long it's been since I truly cared about a character? All four of these characters were so richly layered and so different from one another, even in their speech patterns. You could always tell who was speaking, even without the dialogue tags, because the author took care to flesh out each characters speech patterns and diction in relation to their personality and upbringing. It all felt effortless in the end, resulting in four memorable and vibrant characters.

→ worldbuilding ←

The book is set in a kind of Fantasy Asia in the mid-20th century. There are four distinct cultures/countries in the book, each heavy with real-life cultural influences which I absolutely loved. It was clear what real-life counterpart each nation in this book was meant to represent, but it was clearly a conscious choice made to pay homage to a variety of Asian cultures. It was done so colorfully and respectfully.

Shadepacting is what's getting this book comparisons to Pokemon, and I concur. Pacting with an animal who becomes your superpowered familiar? Yes please. I really loved the relationships various characters had with their shades.

Queerness in this book is just so...casual? Like it's just an accepted part of the world and it was incredible.

→ misc ←

This book is hilarious. Like, truly laugh-out-loud hilarious, which is so rare to come across in fantasy, as it tends to revel in how grimdark it can be. Not that this book didn't grapple with serious issues with the appropriate respect, but there were just some truly hilarious scenes. And I feel like there was a kind of hope and humor underscoring everything?

The anime influences are clear and as a former watcher of anime can I just say I really loved this.

I just...really loved this book, guys. I had so much fun. I connected with all the characters. I genuinely enjoyed every second of reading this book. It just feels so new and fresh. As happy as I am that this is a standalone, which are so damn rare in fantasy, I would read so many other books about these characters, which you know is the mark of a really good book.

Profile Image for Fanna.
987 reviews498 followers
Shelved as 'no-support-at-all'
June 19, 2020
June 19, 2020: Paul Krueger is a harasser. I have not read this or any of his books but have shown interest in the past. However, I would no longer be supporting, recommending, or reading his works.
Profile Image for Ashley.
781 reviews422 followers
June 4, 2020
Star Rating: —> 5 Stars

I loved this beyond words— I really can’t put my finger on exactly the words to say to fully express the extent of my emotions, at the moment

I can say that I fell so unexpectedly, madly, head-over heels in love with this book. I mean, I knew that i’d probably like it, given its roots roughly based in asian history, & its fantasy elements which seem like something out of the pages of a beloved manga series. I mean, its pretty much a guarantee that i’ll love absolutely any novel with a magical system based upon even a rough sketch of asian culture & folklore, and although this touched on familiar, it is exceptional & original. With a plot drenched in humanity— bonds & relationships between fellow humans, between animals (also known as shades), and a even a small amount with metal, or “steel.”

The magic in this story is made through pacts- a magical bond between human and another source, namely, Shadepacts, a pact where a human and an animal create a pact, in which both parties trade a piece of soul with the other, the animal offering service to the human if their souls are harmonious to one another. They ask only a specific favor/ condition of the human in order to complete the pact. Think of this sort of like Pokémon, except with the cost of part of the soul, & people can only split their soul with one, or possibly two shades- more is unheard of- and an actual piece of a soul is what that gives a shade life. All that it takes to call on them during a time of need is the name given to them during the formation of the pact. Shades take damage magically, their corporeal form fading when they take TOO much physical harm, to heal; if the damage they take is fatal- they cease to be.

Others can create pacts with steel- and make steelpacts with metal to control it to their will. With the ability to control blades, bullets & the like, it comes in quite handy. It is a learned & sacred act, stemming from the thought that every part of the earth has a living force.

For the moment, I have SO MUCH MORE to say I need some more time to reflect, I think, because this story is so incredibly amazing & I want to do it justice! My frantic mind is struggling to get a firm grasp on the words that keep popping up in my brain, trying to form coherent sentences. So much is on the tip of my tongue... yet nothing that I write seems... exactly right. It may not even make sense! I have not drafted anything, because I have been pouring myself completely into reading, with no break to review (except for sleep, of source), as a result of my extreme anxiety lately.
Soooo yeah- I may just honestly be rambling strings of unintelligible words/ sentences for all I am aware of rn. 😂

So alas— here I am. RTC

Regardless, I do know that I felt every single word of this novel, so very deeply, in my heart.

A truly beautiful standalone fantasy adventure filled with love & heart !
Profile Image for Monte Price.
603 reviews1,583 followers
June 20, 2020
2020 update

tweet 1 tweet thread 2

It's recently come to my attention that Paul Krueger, author of Steel Crow Saga is a sketch man who has harrassed a number of people in the publishing industry. obviously at the time that i read this book and wrote this review, i was unaware, but felt the need to stop by and let people know that I no longer feel comfortable recommending his work to people.


I did not expect this book to have the impact that it did.

I honestly can't remember the last time that I picked up a fantasy book and was so completely taken from the beginning.

Steel Crow Saga blends a high fantasy feel with an almost urban fantasy vibe that I can't say I've experienced before. While some of the societies featured definitely have an Industrial Revolution vibe to them, the vast majority of the setting feels to have an urban-like sentimentality.

I would say that the book is incredibly character-focused. It's probably one of the reasons that I appreciated it. The fantasy elements were definitely present and were crucial to the story, but they never overpowered the characters. It also didn't feel oppressively hard to get into. This is despite the fact that the novel starts off by essentially throwing us into what could be the end of the story and following the characters as they seek to find their personal resolutions.

The story is told in four perspectives [ though at times a fifth is introduced ] and at first, it's almost told in an adversarial fashion. We follow Lee and Xiulan as they seek to stop Jimuro while also following Jimuro and Tala on their journey to get him to the thrown. As can be expected from any quest-like journey there are obstacles thrown in the way, and in a certain sense, the book does lack an overarching manifestation of evil. As I said though the book is full of character moments. By far and away I think that Lee and Xiulan had the better of the two paths. Not only because I'm a sucker for the princess falling in love with the thief, I just loved Lee as a character. Their dynamic was just great. That's not to say that the journey Tala and Jimuro took together or that dynamic is any less. It was the kind of book where I was never sad to change perspective or had a character I didn' like to see under a chapter heading. It's truly the first and only time that's happened to me in reading a book.

This is also one of the few times that I struggle to find a fault with a book. That's not to say that I think that this is perfection. I think that people looking for the Pokemon angle that's been used in some of the marketing might be misleading. While there are companions, I think it's a lot deeper than a Pokemon bond [ consider GameFreak refuses to say that their creatures are sentient and the shadowpact companions here have complex relationships with the humans they are bound to ]. As I've also said while the fantasy elements are certainly present the characters are first and foremost what's important. As I've also states it's a fusion to an almost high urban fantasy place so even the world that they exist in isn't quite like any fantasy I've read before.

It's also just so nourishing to read a story that is so diverse. Outside of Xiulan and Lee which are the definitive romance lead of the book, Jimuro is definitely not straight. The story also features a transman side character [ I should note that when this character was introduced they were deadnamed, though in the context of the story it wasn't presented as intentional and all of the characters in the novel accept his character as male. I'm not trans though, so I'll leave that to the community to determine if their introduction was handled in poor taste, but I didn't think that it was poorly handled at all ].

At the end of the day I'm so happy that I picked up and read this book. I didn't think that I would fall as in love with this story and these characters as I did, but I'm happy that I picked it up. I don't think it's for everyone, but if it checks your boxes then I'm almost positive you'll have a good time.
Profile Image for Sarah.
604 reviews145 followers
August 29, 2019
I have to say- I was a little disappointed with this. I’ll be up front and say that the premise: Pokemon meets Airbender, is in no way my thing- so your mileage may vary. In my defense I didn’t see it marketed that way until well after I started reading it, but the comparison is legitimate enough, and the Pokemon part was a lot of fun.

However I couldn’t shake the feeling that the motivations for these characters and their countries didn’t always make sense. When the book starts we are with Dimangan and Tala, observing them as children running errands in the market. While there, they see the prince of the Tomodanese people jetting through the streets. The Tomodanese people occupy Sanbuna by force, and the prince’s presence in the street starts a riot.

The problem is: the Tomodanese view the Sanbuna and their shades (think Pokemon) as slavers and slaves respectively. The Tomodanese don’t eat meat and they don’t believe in utilizing animals for human benefit. Basically, they are PETA.

And of course, the Sanbuna don’t view it that way. The pact between them and their shades is an agreement, with give and take, not slavery. (They do eat meat though…) Cultural views on animals aside, obviously the Sanbuna are angry at the attempted colonization and occupation of their country.

Anyway- now that we’ve got that straightened out, what I don’t understand is what the other two cultures we are introduced to have anything to do with it. There are also the Shang, and the Jeongsonese. All of which seem to be against the Tomodanese, and then to top it off, the Shang, Sanbuna, and Tomodanese all look down upon the Jeongsonese, despite the fact that they don’t seem to have done anything.

Sound complex? It is. And I’m okay with complex.. but without knowing the motivations of the other two countries involved I wasn’t sure why the author felt the need to include them. It seemed needlessly complex and without knowing the reasoning behind it I couldn’t help but feel like it was added to give the world building an illusion of depth.

Does that sort of thing happen in real life? Yes. Of course. Is it right? Of course not. But I couldn’t help feeling throughout like Lee and Xiulan’s story really would have been better dedicated to a different plot and a different book, and being given the time it needed to establish how these cultures all fit together.

The characters aren’t terrible, but occasionally felt like cartoons and caricatures. Xiulan runs around in an all white suit, calls herself the “White Rat,” wears a fedora and smokes a pipe in an endless to homage to her childhood hero, a detective from a book, Bai Junjie. Lee is a morally grey thief character, rogue archetype. She’s always imagining how it would feel to pick so-and-so’s pocket, or slip a lock or infiltrate a palace. I guess my issue is they came off as very one note.

And to top it off… this book is long. Way too long. I think if it had been trimmed down to 300 pages and strictly followed Tala and Jimuro’s story, we’d have had a tightly paced plot with world building that didn’t feel flimsy and a truly unique take on fantasy. Lee and Xiulan’s parts in the story could easily have been removed without effecting the overall plot and end result.

But I don’t have all negative things to say about it. There is LGBT+ representation. The f/f romance actually felt much stronger and sweeter than the m/f romance. At least one of the main characters is bisexual, and there is a transgender side character. And it was all done without any of them being shunned or feeling ashamed.

And despite me not necessarily loving Pokemon or Airbender, I have to say, imagining the battle field running rampant with magical, mutated-animal creatures was lots of fun. Overall not a bad book that I think other readers will find more joy in than I did.

Steel Crow Saga releases on September 24th. Thank you to Del Rey and NetGalley for providing an eARC for review.

Profile Image for Beth.
3,127 reviews261 followers
September 1, 2019
Meh, I struggled with this one. Another reviewer said it perfectly, beautiful written but it just went on and on. I found 1 page that caught my attention in about every 20 pages. Can you have too much, yup it was just way too much unnecessary stuff for me.

I received Steel Crow Saga from Random House Publishing Group - Ballantine - Del Rey. This is my honest and voluntary review. < b>Steel Crow Saga is set for publication September 24, 2019.
Profile Image for Sahitya.
1,021 reviews203 followers
September 4, 2019
A solid 4.5 in my opinion but slightly fell short of a 5.

I don’t think I even knew about this book until about a month ago. I think stumbled upon it by accident in someone’s blogpost about upcoming Asian inspired fantasy releases, and I was immediately fascinated. And while it took me a bit to immerse myself in it, I am so glad to have discovered this book and gotten hold of the ARC.

The world building is one aspect that impressed me a lot. As the author is Filipino-American, I was expecting some inspiration from his country and their culture, but I was pleasantly surprised to realize that each of the kingdom present in this book is drawn from a different Asian country, and it’s developed so well that we are able to distinguish them pretty well. I particularly loved that one of them was based on India but it’s also the one kingdom which is least talked about in the book, so I kept wishing for more.

The other interesting aspect of this world is the pacting (or their version of magic). The people of Sanbuna and Shang are capable of shadepacting with animals - which is like forming a soul bond with an animal’s shade and then being able to call upon their familiar to fight alongside them. The Tomodanese on the other hand pact with metals, which helps them in controlling their weapons or using it to power their vehicles. The people of Dahal use their power internally to enhance their personal capabilities. Jeongsonese are the oppressed minority who are capable of pacting but have always been denied the right to gain the knowledge to do so. This distinction between the use of magic across various kingdoms is very helpful in developing differing motivations for each of them, letting us as readers experience varying perspectives and probably finding our own favorites.

The writing style of this novel was also slightly different from what I’m used to but I’m unable to articulate exactly how that was. It is very introspective and we are subjected to many inner monologues of the characters - which I really enjoyed for the most part and helped me understand them better and invest in their development - but it also got long winded at times and may have contributed to the size of the book. I’m usually not a fan of dense writing, so the descriptive writing style should have put me off but I kinda enjoyed it and it made the settings feel more real. The main theme of the book is colonialism but despite the dark themes, there is also a very humorous undertone in the writing. The pacing is also a little slow throughout but it is relentless, with things changing quickly and the characters having to adapt and evolve all the time. This is also essentially a quest/ journey novel and those seem to be my thing this year, so it’s not a surprise that I thoroughly enjoyed this journey with the characters. And the best part was that the author managed to give very distinct voices to each of them, so we are never confused about whose POV we are reading. I’m currently unsure if this is a standalone or a series, but the author did a wonderful job ending it very satisfactorily, so I’m happy if this the actual end; but there are also multiple threads that can be pursued to further this story and I would be delighted to jump into this world all over again.

The characters are definitely the best and my most favorite part of this book, but I don’t wanna talk about them much. I think the beauty of this book is in discovering the various layers of each character and realizing what lays at the core of them. One thing common between all the POV characters is that they are real, flawed, pretty morally grey, not immune from being prejudiced and treating those different from them in a vile manner - but all of them go through a journey of unlearning all the wrong things, understanding others’ perspectives and building relationships with unlikely people. I felt very invested in knowing where the characters were going and what they might do next, so I never wanted to put the book down even though it was all a bit slow going. The characters do fall into familiar fantasy tropes like a grumpy soldier, an arrogant prince, a Sherlock inspired detective type character and a petty thief who gets roped into working for the other side - so it can feel a little predictable, but I enjoyed this slight predictability but also felt highly satisfied with the way things turned out for each of them.

Though the author chose not to be very subtle in discussing some important themes, it didn’t in anyway lessen the impact of what was being told through the story. The impact of colonialism is very brutally described, along with the blatant disingenuous reasons that power hungry nations can come up with to colonize and occupy another country. It’s very evident that whatever noble the initial intentions may have been, the reality of occupation is always ugly. But the most important point that I think the author tried to make was that even if the colonizer is defeated by a revolution, war always brings out worst impulses and it doesn’t take much for the oppressed to turn into an oppressor. The nature of war and it’s impact on soldiers, and the utter lack of direction and purpose that they might feel during peace time is also deftly talked about.

I also loved how the author decided to give equal weight to all kinds of relationships. The importance of family and sibling bonds, and how losing them can have far reaching consequences forms an important part of the character’s choices and the kind of people they turn out to be. I also enjoyed the way human/animal bonds are shown - while some people can truly treat their familiars as slaves and impose their will upon them, others form bonds based on mutual respect and it was wonderful of the author to show us both perspectives. The book is also very queer and I loved how normalized it was in this world. It was lovely to see lesbian, gay, bi and trans characters all be able to be their true selves without any judgement.

I guess I’ve gone on long enough in this review. Basically, all I want to say is I really really enjoyed this book a lot and I’m glad I got this opportunity to discover a new to me Asian author. As it has been marketed, if you like anime or Pokémon or are a fan of Fullmetal Alchemist, then this book might be for you, but I can’t vouch for it because I know nothing about them. However, if you do love reading about an ensemble cast of characters going on a physical (as well as metaphorical) journey to discover some hard truths about the world and find themselves changing accordingly, then this might be the perfect book for you. It also works very well as a standalone, so you should definitely give this a try if you aren’t ready to invest your time in a new series.
Profile Image for Meaghan.
546 reviews75 followers
March 8, 2020
God, I don't even know what to say about this book. These beautiful, lovely characters in this heartbreaking world recovering from colonization and war just took me by complete surprise. While it took me while to really make time for this book (though not to get into it, it had me hooked from the first chapter), I'm so glad I finally pushed my other books aside to just read and enjoy this.

This book was so wonderfully crafted in so many ways, I could spend paragraphs commending each aspect of it. The characters were so well fleshed out, from their motivations and personalities to how that impacted all of their decisions. There was growth that actually fit the characters as well, with the characters becoming stronger and kinder as the novel went on but never straying from who they are at the their core. Their backgrounds were also just all heartbreaking in their own ways, and seeing these characters work through that and find each other was just, amazing.

I also just couldn't get over the world this was set in. There was so much going on, with the magic and the current political atmosphere, but it blended together so well. I want a book set in each of these countries, delving into their traditions and their magic. There was just so much here without there being too much. The politics also just made for a really fantastic world, and I loved the dynamic of the character's together as they navigated those politics together.

The writing here was also lovely. Great descriptions yet not too long, too dragging. Witty dialogue, but not in a way that tries too hard. It all came together to make something good great, and the words used to tie everything together made me cry sometimes. I'm seriously just in awe sometimes.

I can't wait to see what this author does next (and check out his other work). I really hope he writes more in this world, though I also greatly appreciate that this story wrapped up here, as it did.
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