Thursday, March 31, 2011

Steel - Carrie Vaughn

Summary:  Sixteen-year-old Jill has fought dozens of fencing tournaments, but she has never held a sharpened blade.  When she finds a corroded sword piece on a Caribbean beach, she is instantly intrigued and pockets it as her own personal treasure.

The broken tip holds secrets, though, and it transports Jill through time to the deck of a pirate ship.  Stranded in the past and surrounded by strangers, she is forced to sign on as crew.  But a pirate's life is bloody and brief, and as Jill learns about the dark magic that brought her there, she forms a desperate scheme to get home--one that risks everything in a duel to the death with a villainous pirate captain.  (Summary from book - Image from harperteen.com  - Book given free for review)

My Review:  Steel arrived at my door, looking every so promising, with a dashing cover that guaranteed a “swashbuckling tale of magic, romance, and pirates”. I’ve been pretty stressed out lately--we’re trying to get our house ready to put on the market--and couldn’t wait to escape into what I hoped was a fast-paced, blustery adventure on the high seas.

Steel offers an interesting combination of modern fencing, time travel, and piracy. While this novel provided ample information on fencing and pirates, it started slowly, and I struggled to connect with the characters or disappear into the story. My first thought, when reading of Jill’s initial appearance on a colonial pirate ship was, “Wow. She’s taking this really well.” She didn’t seem particularly fazed by her disappearance from modern times and subsequent capture by a raggedy band of pirates. Now I don’t have a lot of experience with these things, but I’m guessing that time travel usually tends to freak people out. Jill’s lack of sheer, unadulterated terror was conspicuous, to say the least, and I felt an immediate emotional distance from the story and its characters.

With a gorgeous setting like the colonial Caribbean, I expected luscious descriptions that created a feast for the senses--words that allowed me to taste the salty air, feel the blistering sun, and possibly get a mild case of seasickness. Quite simply, I wanted to feel there, and, alas, I did not. I stayed in my almost-for-sale house and read a book. It wasn’t a bad way to spend the afternoon, but it wasn’t a great one either.

Steel awkwardly straddles the children’s fiction and YA genres, producing a kind of lukewarm piracy that lacked the grease, grit, and outright peril that come from more accurate pirate adventures. Even, the promised romance was virtually non-existent and certainly not worth mentioning on the cover. While I understand having to keep to a certain code when writing for the kiddos, I was still a little disappointed by what felt like a watered-down version of a more exciting novel.

I struggled for about a week through nearly two hundred pages, before the events of the story finally caught my attention. The final duel, chase, and battle were far more intense than the rest of the book, and I liked how she chose to resolve things. While I probably won’t recommend this book to many adults, I think that this novel could find its ideal audience with younger young adults who are more likely to enjoy this PG pirate adventure.

My Rating: 3.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: Despite the sugarcoated pirates, there were some moments of profanity, violence, and underage rum-consumption. They are still pirates, after all.

Sum it up: A swashbuckling tale of lukewarm piracy.

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