Sara's Reviews > Steeplejack

Steeplejack by A.J. Hartley
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4.5 out of 5

I have a friend who works for Tor / Forge Books, and she'd mentioned this book last year after it had sold to the publisher. As soon as she said "South African inspired steampunk YA," I was on board. Now, after reading STEEPLEJACK, my first thought is this: Why isn't this book getting more attention?!?! Because it deserves it!

- THE WORLD-BUILDING. The city of Bar-Selehm and its surrounding rural areas are indeed inspired by South Africa, with a steampunk flavor to the city itself. The carriages, trains, and businesses are powered by steam technology, but that's as steampunk as it gets. That's OK, because the rest of the world-building makes this setting feel real. The three main races (white Feldish, dark-skinned Mahweni, and brown-skinned Lani) have different cultures, social status (the Lani are the poorest and most neglected of the three), and worldviews. The country's history is rich and believable, too, from how the Feldish "colonized" Bar-Selehm and brought the Lani over as servants, to their still-tenuous relationship with the native Mahweni. Oh, and there are HYENAS. And HIPPOS. And elephants and giraffes in the wild. :D
- The protagonist. Anglet Sotunga (a.k.a. Ang) is the titular steeplejack. She repairs towers and chimneys for a living, so she's an excellent climber and darn fearless about heights. That bravery, along with her intelligence and keen observation skills, helps her become a good detective later on. In addition, Ang is a humanitarian, most likely because she's one of the impoverished Lani. Thus, getting her perspective on Bar-Selehm's interracial conflicts opens the reader's eyes, mind, and heart.
- The murder and heist investigations. It quickly becomes clear that the two main crimes are connected, and Ang is forced to visit uncomfortable places (physically and emotionally) to get to the bottom of things. The result is a layered, action-packed mystery with heart-pounding chases and climbs, constant suspense, and a shocking twist at the end that I didn't see coming.
- A thoughtful exploration of racial and social inequality. A natural product of the first three points. Berritt's murder, the Beacon's disappearance, and the ruckus that Ang unintentionally causes with her PI work shows tensions between Bar-Selehm's peoples coming to a head. It's neither forced nor exaggerated. And given what's currently going on in our own world, it makes STEEPLEJACK a relevant story.
- Great supporting characters. I especially adored Tanish, a young steeplejack apprentice and Ang's closest friend. He's loyal to her, yet torn between her and other allegiances. I also liked Sarah the fledgling newspaper reporter, the Mahweni herder Mnenga, and Josiah Willinghouse's snooty yet surprisingly funny sister.
- It's not your typical YA. No cliched tropes whatsoever. And, apart from Ang choosing not to pursue her feelings for one of the supporting characters, there's no romance. This all made STEEPLEJACK a refreshing change of pace genre-wise.

- The writing was disengaging at times, but not often. Ang is a practical, matter-of-fact character. This shows in her narrative voice, which sometimes makes the exposition feel dry. I didn't notice this so much during dialogue, "action" sequences, or scenes where I was truly emotionally invested, though.
- A few jarring scene transitions. There were a couple times when there was a weird "jump" between scenes. It seemed like Ang was going one place at the end of Scene A, then went someplace totally different in Scene B without much explanation. Maybe I'm being picky, but those few moments were disorienting.


Talk about a WOW of a book. STEEPLEJACK is a welcome breath of fresh air in YA speculative fiction that's compulsively "unputdownable" because of its setting, mystery elements, and embrace of multiculturalism. It's a bit different from other edge-of-your-seat thrillers in the genre - but that's irrelevant. So, do yourself a favor, and check out STEEPLEJACK. I haven't read anything like it before, and its sequel is on my radar for next year!
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Reading Progress

August 25, 2015 – Shelved
August 25, 2015 – Shelved as: to-read
September 8, 2016 – Started Reading
September 9, 2016 –
page 32
9.52% "Wasn't planning to start this last night, but I couldn't help myself. The protagonist is a bit aloof, but the story world is already fascinating."
September 10, 2016 –
page 223
66.37% "Managed to read a big chunk of this while my car was worked on this morning - and it's now really hard to put down! :)"
September 11, 2016 – Finished Reading
September 12, 2016 – Shelved as: action-packed
September 12, 2016 – Shelved as: diverse-reads
September 12, 2016 – Shelved as: eyeopeners
September 12, 2016 – Shelved as: female-protagonists
September 12, 2016 – Shelved as: mysteries
September 12, 2016 – Shelved as: steampunk
September 12, 2016 – Shelved as: world-building-love
September 12, 2016 – Shelved as: young-adult
September 12, 2016 – Shelved as: research-love
September 12, 2016 – Shelved as: fantasy

Comments Showing 1-6 of 6 (6 new)

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message 1: by Brianna (new) - added it

Brianna Silva *ponders* *reads description* *shrugs and adds to TBR*

Sara Brianna wrote: "*ponders* *reads description* *shrugs and adds to TBR*"


message 3: by Kristen (new)

Kristen Kieffer Woah, this sounds amazing! Definitely adding to my TBR as well. :D

message 4: by Sara (last edited Sep 12, 2016 11:51AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sara Kristen wrote: "Woah, this sounds amazing! Definitely adding to my TBR as well. :D"

Yes yes yes! And I just realized I forgot to mention that Ang spends a good portion of the book caring for her older sister's infant daughter, which added a whole other set of concerns for her. But I'd already said so much that I didn't want to make the review much longer. :o

message 5: by Faith (new) - added it

Faith Rivens So another book to throw atop by TBR! Wonderful ;)

Sara Faith wrote: "So another book to throw atop by TBR! Wonderful ;)"

Yaaaay! :D

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