Series: Alternative Detective #1
Published by Tor Teen on June 14th 2016
Genres: young adult, fantasy
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Seventeen-year-old Anglet Sutonga, Ang for short, repairs the chimneys, towers, and spires of Bar-Selehm, the ethnically-diverse industrial capital of a land resembling Victorian South Africa. The city was built on the trade of luxorite, a priceless glowing mineral. When the Beacon, a historical icon made of luxorite, is stolen, it makes the headlines. But no one cares about the murder of Ang's new apprentice, Berrit—except for Josiah Willinghouse, an enigmatic young politician, who offers Ang a job investigating Berrit's death. On top of this, Ang struggles with the responsibility of caring for her sister's newborn child.
As political secrets unfold and racial tensions surrounding the Beacon's theft rise, Ang navigates the constricting traditions of her people, the murderous intentions of her former boss, and the conflicting impulses of a fledgling romance. With no one to help her except a savvy newspaper girl and a kindhearted herder from the savannah, Ang must resolve the mysterious link between Berrit and the missing Beacon before the city is plunged into chaos.
The first thing I thought of when reading the first few pages of Steeplejack is how much the writing reminded me of Jay Kristoff’s. It’s immersive, the world-building is intense, and the setting comes to life in your mind brilliantly due to the great imagery. Plus, the prose flows in kind of the same way. Steeplejack hooked me from the start. The writing might be a bit too wordy for some, but it’s just the kind that I need to help me escape from reality.
The setting of Steeplejack is a harsh world, and maybe not one a reader would want to escape to, but you will just the same. Bar-Selehm is dirty, industrialized, polluted, and crowded. There is lots of poverty, racism, corruption in the government, and gangs. No detail is left unwritten by the author either. You can visualize Bar-Selehm as if you are there. The major way to express wealth is by wearing or owning luxorite. It’s a gem that glows like a bright lamp from within, and it dims with age. A piece of luxorite will burn for hundreds of years, a bright white when it is first mined, and gradually dimming over the years. A large piece of luxorite called The Beacon lights the city of Bar-Selehm from a tower, but it is stolen one night, and the very same day the theft is noticed, a Lani boy falls from a chimney and dies. Our MC, Anglet, an expert climber (steeplejack) knows he was murdered but trying to convince the authorities of this is another matter entirely. A young politician hires her to solve the crime, and she spends the majority of the book working as a private investigator fort this wealthy man and his family.
The other thing that is important to mention is the fact that Bar-Selehm is a multicultural city, but there are a lot of racial inequalities. The Lani people live in the slums called The Drowning, and they are treated worse than second-class citizens by the Feldish, or the whites. The Mahweni, the indigenous peoples that were there before anyone, work menial jobs in the city, but many of them choose to still live in the wilderness. Bar-Selehm is described as sort of a South African city, so if you can picture that location, and go from there. But basically, the city revolves around trade, industry, and luxorite. Anglet is a steeplejack. She cleans and repairs chimneys of some of the tallest buildings, and it is her new apprentice that is murdered the day after The Beacon is stolen. What follows from there is Ang trying to solve that crime, but unturning new stones in the mystery almost every page. Her former employer keeps trying to kill her, and it seems everyone that tries to help her is murdered. Things get deeper and more mysterious as we go, and that brings me to my next point.
It is of my opinion that the first half of the book was much stronger than the second. I very much enjoyed it as a whole, but I feel like it tried to do too much. When the big reveal came at the end, I was just flabbergasted. I was shocked, yes, because I didn’t see the antagonist being who it was, but at the same time, things weren’t adding up. I figured some of it out, but I feel like it was all just sort of convoluted in the breaking down of WHY The Beacon was stolen and and all the murders that happened as a form of misdirection. I don’t feel like ANY of that had to happen, and yet it did. I wasn’t satisfied. The perpetrators should have just committed the crime and covered their tracks. They didn’t have to do all they did. There was even an odd shoot-out that made absolutely no sense in the larger scheme of things. It just didn’t work for me, unfortunately. I loved everything leading up to it, but the last fifty or so pages left me feeling a bit empty. I feel like maybe I will be in the minority here, because the reviews are overwhelmingly positive so far, but I just couldn’t wrap my brain around everything the author was trying to sell me.
That said, I still enjoyed it very much. I loved Anglet, I loved the world-building, and I am looking forward to spending more time with these characters if it is indeed a series. Goodreads lists it as one, but I’m not sure upon finishing because the book was wrapped up pretty neatly with only one loose end that I am not sure is strong enough to carry into another book. The book may have been wrapped up a little TOO neatly, in my opinion. It seemed like there should have been more at stake, but that was not the case, really. The book ramped up and ramped up the tension only to leave it in a neat package with a bow. I wanted someone to die. 😀 It was still an entertaining book though, and worth reading for Anglet and the world-building alone. Oh, and the diversity is super great and so well done to the point where I was SERIOUSLY impressed at the depth. I loved it.