Book Review: Steeplejack

Posted July 28, 2016 by Lyn Kaye in book review, Lyn / 0 Comments

Book Review: SteeplejackSteeplejack by A.J. Hartley
Series: Alternative Detective #1
Published by Tor Teen on June 14th 2016
Genres: fantasy, young adult
Pages: 336
Format: eARC
Source: Publisher
Buy on Amazon

Seventeen-year-old Anglet Sutonga, makes a living repairing the chimneys, towers, and spires of Bar-Selehm. Dramatically different communities live and work alongside one another. The white Feldish command the nation’s higher echelons of society; the native Mahweni are divided between city life and the savannah. And then there’s Ang, part of the Lani community who immigrated there generations ago and now mostly live in poverty on Bar-Selehm’s edges.

When Ang is supposed to meet her new apprentice, Berrit, she finds him dead. That same night the Beacon, an invaluable historical icon, is stolen. The Beacon’s theft commands the headlines, yet no one seems to care about Berrit’s murder—except for Josiah Willinghouse, an enigmatic young politician. When he offers Ang a job investigating the death, she plunges headlong into new and unexpected dangers.

Meanwhile, crowds gather in protests over the city’s mounting troubles. Rumors surrounding the Beacon’s theft grow. More suspicious deaths occur. With no one to help Ang except Josiah’s haughty younger sister, a savvy newspaper girl, and a kindhearted herder, Ang must rely on her intellect and strength to resolve the mysterious link between Berrit and the missing Beacon before the city descends into chaos.

Steeplejack was an interesting novel that showed up in my e-mail box one day. I really love Tor Teen books, and when I read the description of this novel, I kept thinking that this one sounded so interesting. So I downloaded it and decided that it was well worth putting onto my TBR list.

When Kara started to get excited over this one, I knew that I was missing out, and therefore, the peer pressure worked wonders for me with Steeplejack. Word of mouth, instead of hype, helped promote this book to the top of the pile.

While there were some parts that let me down, I will say that the overall feeling of this book was exciting. The novel is refreshing, interesting, and gives a new twist to the sudden rash of female detectives that are currently flooding the field, thanks to Sherlock mania.


What I Enjoyed

The setting was amazing. I have never touched on a fantasy series that touched on South Africa, and the world building for this novel was one of the most interesting that has hit the shelves in a while. The diversity is also quite thoughtful as well. Mirroring after the mixed culture of the same region, the book also delved into cultural differences and clashes.

I loved the idea of the luxorite, a precious mineral that let off light, and was fashioned into different objects, such as lamps and luxury items, in this universe. Where diamonds and opals drive the trade in our universe, this was the base for the economy in the book, giving the novel a fantasy edge.

I enjoyed that there were parts where Ang was acting as a single mother in portions of the book. Young families are always welcomed in YA for me, since this is a demographic that is often demonized and overlooked in our own society.

Classism was another great perspective explored in Steeplejack. Ang faces rejection from her community as she works “above” her station, where her own believes that she is trying to better herself, and therefore, turning her back on her own culture. This is a common thread in poverty-stricken areas, where the fear of isolation for those trying to build something better. They are no longer welcome in their own community, but are not accepted in the society that they are employed.  Ang shows the loneliness of living on the fringes of both worlds, when both sides reject those who no longer have a place.

In the book, there is a scene that centers around attempted sexual assault. While I am rather getting fed up with using rape to define the female protagonist, or give girls and women some definition, this scene was used to address a bigger problem of society, instead of making Ang more likable and excusing her actions in the future.

Many different characters come in and out of the story. The author strays away from the linear formula of the standard YA novel. In fact, there is very little romance, and the story revolves around Ang’s struggle to survive instead of finding a boyfriend.

What Was Not So Great

The mystery is way too complicated. By the end, I had lost track of what was happening, and I never reached that moment where everything came together. In fact, I can’t even recall what really happened, and how everything came together. The audience was strung along for a bit too long, and the story just turned tedious after a while.

There was too much happening, and I felt lost, instead of engaged. The story became very politically motivated, and while politics and such are interesting, this one took it to another level, and left me behind.

While I loved that Ang was trying to balance motherhood and her own employment, the baby soon became a throw away storyline, and it felt forced and inorganic, like the author wanted a single mother as a heroine, but was unsure how to make it work.

While I really liked Ang, and I loved that she was a sisterly figure, and took care of her own, some of her decisions drove me crazy. Her decisions were heavy handed, which just irked me. In reality, she should have failed due to her bumbling approaches to the mystery.


This book had a lot of heart and even more action. Hartley stuck to the pulp fiction style without adding in the cheese factor, and instead turned the focus onto social and gender issues in place of romantic interests. This was a powerful book, even though some parts were swollen and heavy with its own importance. However, this one was well worth the read, and it is nice to see that the girls are starting to get a chunk of the action.


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