Book Review: “Steeplejack” and “Firebrand” by A.J. Hartley
Series: Alternate Detective #1&2 Genre: Teen Fiction Rating: 4/5 stars
“Steeplejack” and “Firebrand” were two of the most unique books I’ve ever read, the type of stories that continue to resonate long after you’ve finish them!
The books were successful on several accounts. The “whodunit” detective mystery was engaging, made all the more compelling by Anglet’s (the main character) personal stake in solving the crime. Her involvement felt more organic than not, and the passages dedicated to developing her convictions and motives were my favorites of the book. She also had a heartfelt side story going on, which offered a satisfying amount of character depth. Anglet is definitely the best part of this series.
The second best part is the inclusion of diversity of characters and an author who wasn’t afraid to write about unfair class systems and discrimination. He offered a variety of dynamics between races not usually seen in YA, for which I applaud. Anglet is a non-white main character, and in a market clamoring for more diversity in books, she was a breath of fresh air. My only issue is that the cover art makes her race a little ambiguous I would’ve liked to seen her more strongly represented.
The books take place in what feels like a 1920s era city, complete with tall buildings (obviously, based on the need for steeplejacks), a neat alternate light/energy source, and plenty of dirty dealings and underground crime. Interestingly enough, this urban setting is fringed by hippo-occupied rivers, lion-prowling brush lands, and native tribes people. Needless to say, it made for a unique atmosphere. I wasn’t totally convinced of its feasibility, given pollution issues and humanity’s tendency to dominate and destroy any threats around major hubs. Then I discovered that A.J. Hartley spent some time in South Africa doing research for this series … and now imagine the story reflects this weird dichotomy fairly accurately. It’s still hard for me to wrap my brain around, but I can’t deny that the threat of charging hippos and lurking crocodiles added a lot of spice to the story. Sometimes it’s the most unlikely of real-life situations that are the most unbelievable in fiction. Side note: A.J. Hartley has to be one of the most interesting authors I’ve come across (you can see what I’m talking about on his website).
Both novels were equally compelling. While “Firebrand” didn’t have quite as much growth for the main character, it made up for it by having her become much more immersed in her new “career.” At one point near the beginning, I thought it was flirting with hokey, then the author surprised me with an awesome twist, and then I was hooked!
Overall, this series (so far) has been incredibly entertaining, memorable, and thought-provoking. I was especially glad to see a YA/mystery hybrid that felt like a true merge of those genres (where the mystery felt sophisticated enough to appeal to readers of that market). Overall, there wasn’t a single thing I didn’t like about “Steeplejack” or “Firebrand” — both exceeded my expectations with flying colors. I’m eagerly awaiting another alternate detective novel.
I want to think the publicists at TOR/Forge and A.J. Hartley for a chance to read and review an early copy of “Firebrand.” I enjoyed it thoroughly!
Want more reviews? Check out my website at nikihawkes.com!
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