Publisher: Del Rey
Page Count: 516
Release Date: September 24th, 2019
Rating: 4/5 Stars
Note: I was provided a free ARC of this book in return for my fair and honest review.
In a war-torn region of island nations, the dust is finally settling on a series of revolutions that freed several countries from the rule of the Tomodanese. All that remains to finalize peace is to return a captive prince to the throne of Tomoda so that he can be crowned ruler and negotiate the terms of surrender. But with multiple nations seeking to control the prince, and some people wanting him outright dead, the journey to the throne is a perilous one. Four fates come crashing together in the bid to see who will control the throne: Jimuro, the captive prince; Tala, his military escort from the nation of Sanbu; Xiulan, a princess-turned-detective hunting the prince to put him control of the Shang court; and Lee, a thief rescued from the gallows in return for her aid to Xiulan. As these four travel through the lands, they’ll be caught between various factions and a range of magical abilities. But none of these are as deadly as the mysterious man wielding a forbidden talent, a man who will kill every last person that stands between him and his quarry.
STEEL CROW SAGA is an imaginative world full of complex characters and deep world-building. The chapters switch between POVs, allowing you to see how the character sees themselves and how others see them. The characters are flawed and full of prejudices from their respective nations, and yet for the most part you still root for them and want them to succeed. It’s truly satisfying when characters realize how their upbringing or perception of the past has clouded what’s happening in the present. They felt like real people and I truly enjoyed meeting them!
Strangely, while the characters worked great on their own, their interactions didn’t always work for me. For most of the book, the characters work in two pairs: Jimuro & Tala, and Xiulan & Lee. Of these, Xiulan & Lee worked the best, detective and thief joining forces to approach problems from two wildly different angles. I had a harder time with Jimuro and Tala because Jimuro (the prince) starts off as a complete prick, and I had a harder time buying his developing friendship with defensive Tala, especially as she hates his people for the years of oppression they brought to her home. And with these two pairs working largely apart from each other for the bulk of the story, it was a bit jarring when their paths crossed and they largely just trusted one another, especially with personal secrets.
On the more positive side, the world-building in STEEL CROW SAGA was fantastic. Krueger has developed several Asian-inspired nations, with roots in everything from China to the Philippines. These nations have a complex history of warfare and colonization, and though it was a bit overwhelming at first, I appreciated the nuances between the different cultures. Krueger uses a whole range of differences to paint the world, from the various kinds of magic each nation uses, to the differences in culinary pallets. I found the region fascinating to explore and a highlight of the book.
As for the magic and action, comparisons to AVATAR THE LAST AIRBENDER and POKEMON are apt. The Tomodanese are metal-pacters, able to manipulate everything from copper to steel with a touch, making it harder, hotter, sharper, etc. The other major magic is shade-pacting, the art of forming a bond with an animal and absorbing its soul into yours, allowing you to call forth a more powerful, magical creature. There are some truly epic battles using both these magics against one another, in particular the finale sequence. A sequence on a train, when our four heroes first run into each other, was also full of fun and tension, as competing agendas finally came crashing together.
STEEL CROW SAGA is a fantasy tale where the “good guys” aren’t always right, where a maelstrom of cultures and identities come together in an impressive journey. For those looking for both POC and queer rep, you will find plenty among the lead characters. While there were a few hiccups in the character interactions, overall this was a fun adventure in an interesting world, and definitely worth checking out.