Title: Steel Crow Saga
Author: Paul Krueger
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Publisher: Del Rey
Publication date: September 24 2019
Hardcover: 528 pages
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.
Stand alone or series: Stand alone (?!) (NOOOOOO)
How did I get this book: Review copy from publisher
Format (e- or p-): ebook
By the time December 31 2019 rolls in, I am certain this year will go down in history as my favourite reading year since the start of The Book Smugglers, 11 years ago. Steel Crow Saga by Paul Krueger is another brilliant and beautiful book that the reading gods have deemed me worthy of reading in 2019.
It starts with the end of a war. A war that has ravaged different nations, left people hurt and reeling over everything that has been lost. There are complicated issues of colonialism and what happens after the empire is defeated and the colonisers are gone but not completely destroyed. What is the way forward? Drastic humiliation and annihilation of the defeated as some desire or an attempt at politics and diplomacy based on mutual understanding and a spirit of cooperation?
The latter is at the heart of the story, a story that also has a history of Firsts in a world full of Magic. Shadepacting is when a Shang or someone from the Sanbu Islands create a shared, consensual bond with the spirit of an animal who becomes part of one’s soul. Calling out a shade makes it solid until you ask it to return inside. Meanwhile, the people from Tomoda, can bend and forge anything metal.
That’s the bare bones of the worldbuilding.
But then, we have the characters, the true heroes of this saga.
Prince Jimuro of Tomoda is the last surviving member of his royal family. A revolution has brought down his kingdom’s rule after decades of conquest and subjugation. After being kept a war prisoner and prolonged peace talks, the Prince is finally able to return home to be crowned and to start the healing process across nations. If he survives the journey. Jimuro is a young, earnest leader who genuinely cares for his people and who just wants to do better but also maybe doesn’t yet fully grasp the extent of the crimes his family committed because he thinks it was all very civilised. Tl;dr – redeemed cinnamon roll.
Tala is a soldier who survived the worst of war, and who lost her entire family to Jimuro’s army. Tala has a secret who can change everything everyone knows about shadepacting. And she is also now the person responsible for Jimuro’s safety. Tala is a seasoned, disciplined soldier, who smiles little and trusts no one, and keeping Jimuro alive may be the hardest thing she will ever do but she will do everything in her power to follow her orders. Tl;dr – tormented cinnamon roll.
Lee is a petty thief and accomplished tracker who has always put herself first in a life that has been crushing and unforgiving. The book opens and Lee is about to be killed for a crime she didn’t commit (for a change) when she is saved by a hot Princess who then invites Lee to become a member of the law and to go on a dangerous adventure to capture Prince Jimuro before he reaches home. Tl;dr – cynical yet hilarious cinnamon roll.
Princess Xiulan, a member of the Shang royal family and also a pipe-smoking detective who loves to read and takes life advice from her fave series of crime novels. She wants: to capture Prince Jimuro so that she can score against her sister, The Favourite; to be crowned Queen; to read tons of books and study more; and to shag Lee senseless, not necessarily in this order. Tl;dr – precious cinnamon roll, TOO PURE FOR THIS WORLD.
So off these characters go, Jimuro and Tala, Xiulan and Lee travelling to an inevitable collision in a road-trip adventure with twists, deaths and kisses. With a foot firmly set on very real, complex issues of post-war and post-colonialism, Steel Crow Saga is effectively, a book about building up, compromising, learning from mistakes, making good on promises, mending bridges and yes, screwing up but then listening and making amends. It is about politics and diplomacy, about change and specially about letting go of noxious historical narratives– and this happens both in the large scale of the new world these characters are building and the small scale of their personal, internal choices. It is about doing good in order to change the world for the better. The balance is *chef’s kiss*.
Full of queer characters, there is also a huge amount of lovely, LOVELY romance here and this is just not something I am used to reading in my epic fantasy sagas. There is critical darkness and violence in this book but it somehow manages to completely circumvent the pitfalls of Grimdark to fall squarely on the side of romantic, hopeful and joyous. I guess I could say this book is to Fantasy what Becky Chambers’ books are to Science Fiction?
This book is so good, I am just sitting here quietly crying after just finishing it, sad because it is over and I don’t have more pages with these characters. THESE LOVABLE FOOLS.
Tl;dr: THIS IS ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS IN A YEAR FULL OF BEST BOOKS AND I WANT ONE MILLION MORE BOOKS SET IN THIS WORLD. BRING BACK MY CINNAMON ROLLS.
Rating: Oh, yes it is another 10.