Author: A. J. Hartley
Series: Alternative Detective
Publication: Tor Teen (June 14, 2016)
Description: Thoughtfully imaginative and action-packed, Steeplejack is New York Times bestselling A. J. Hartley's YA debut set in a 19th-century South African fantasy world
Seventeen-year-old Anglet Sutonga lives repairing the chimneys, towers, and spires of the city of Bar-Selehm. Dramatically different communities live and work alongside each other. The white Feldish command the nation’s higher echelons of society. The native Mahweni are divided between citylife and the savannah. And then there’s Ang, part of the Lani community who immigrated over generations ago as servants and now mostly live in poverty on Bar-Selehm’s edges.
When Ang is supposed to meet her new apprentice Berrit, she instead 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 her a job investigating his 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.
“A richly realized world, an intensely likable character, and a mystery to die for." ― Cory Doctorow, New York Times-bestselling author.
My Thoughts: I enjoyed this new fantasy novel. I liked the world building which included three races co-existing (more or less) in the same city. The whites ruled, the blacks were either assimilated but second class citizens or still unassimilated herders, and the third race was the Lani who were the lowest class of all and who were desperately clinging to their culture and way of life.
Ang is a Lani who has left the area where her people live and become a steeplejack in the city. She is under the control of a crime lord who is also Lani. When she discovers that her new apprentice has been murdered, she begins to investigate his death which leads her into a widespread conspiracy with large political implications.
Complicating the plot is the theft of the beacon that has lit the city for quite a while. The beacon is made of a mineral that is luminescent, glowing with a bright white light when newly found and fading to black as it reaches the end of its life. The mineral is rare and vastly expensive. It is out of reach of all but the richest in the city.
Ang gains both friends, allies and enemies as she investigates. She is also busy with her own issues relating to her family. Her sister has just had her fourth daughter in a culture that doesn't allow a woman to have more than three. Ang takes the baby but can't care for it because of her investigation and the danger she is in. Unwanted babies end up in an orphanage where they are taught to be domestic servants. This isn't a life Ang wants for the baby. She believes that it is time for her people to abandon this old custom. Ang is the youngest, the third sister, who is said to be a curse on her family. She greatly admires the oldest sister who acted as a mother to her until she went into the city and where she now lives a life of privilege having mostly abandoned her sisters.
This was a richly detailed story filled with well-rounded characters. It was a mystery and Ang an unlikely but determined detective. I thought it was great.
"You can't believe everything you read, Miss Fischer," I said.I got this ARC from NetGalley. You can buy your copy here.
"Yes, thank you for that," she answered. "Being a librarian, I had no idea that print was not always reliable. Do come back if you find you need books on flower arranging or how to assemble a steam engine, won't you? Your interests have become so diverse of late."
It was, I think, as close to a joke as Miss Fischer ever came, and I shot her a quick, if slightly abashed, smile before heading upstairs.