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Steel Crow Saga Hardcover – September 24, 2019
An Amazon Book with Buzz: "The Second Home" by Christina Clancy
"A sure-footed ode to the strength of family, the depth of loss, and the power of forgiveness." - J. Ryan Stradal Learn more
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From the Publisher
“Inventive, action-packed, and set in an Asian-inspired world that feels both fresh and familiar: This is a book I’ve always wanted but never had until now.” —S. Jae-Jones, New York Times bestselling author of Wintersong and Shadowsong
“You’re going to love cheering for these characters as they fight for honor, love, family, and country. This world of steel and souls completely transported me. It’s a hexbolt to the heart.”—Kevin Hearne, New York Times bestselling author of A Plague of Giants and The Iron Druid Chronicles
“A rollicking adventure that wears its heart on its sleeve, and a joyful ode to its anime influences.”—Emily Skrutskie, author of Hullmetal Girls
“An incredible voice, an amazing conflict, and a hot mess of emotions . . . Krueger has taken one earth-shattering step and a thousand stories will grow in his footprint.”—Sam Sykes, author of Seven Blades in Black
“With a well-realized world and strong characters, many of whom are queer, Krueger's novel will feel as fast-paced and exciting as its animated influences and leave the reader longing for more. Highly recommended for any fantasy fan.”
—Booklist (starred review)
“A post-colonial fantasy draws on Japanese, Chinese, Korean, and Filipino cultures for a multinational tale of political intrigue. . . . This Asian-influenced sociopolitical drama explores the complications that ensue after the war, when no one's hands are clean. Characters face the consequences of the choices they made during the conflict and consider whether it's possible to rise above deeply ingrained prejudices and forge alliances with former enemies. Such grave matters are leavened by amusing banter, solid action, and two charming nascent romances of opposites. As tasty as the mushroom adobo that appears in the book both as food and metaphor.”
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Starts with a bang and never slows down . . . Think Pokémon meets The Golden Compass, with plenty of original and frightening twists along the way. . . . Krueger deftly gives each character their own point of view without losing sight of the novel’s central theme: We’re stronger together than we are alone.”
About the Author
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I discovered this book after attending the Writers Coffeehouse at Comic-con (July 2019). At that panel, Delilah S. Dawson mentioned that one of the best books she's read that year was called "Steel Crow Saga" by Paul Krueger and that they were going to be giving out ARCs (Advance Reader Copy aka "Advanced Uncorrected Proof") at one of the booths down in the exhibit hall. I tracked the book down but couldn't make it back in time for the signing because of another panel conflict. One of the ladies in the booth gave me a copy of the book anyway (Thank you!). I was able to get back in time to meet Paul and have him sign his book for me.
I agree with Delilah Dawson's appraisal of the book. It's one of the best books I've read this year (and probably in the last several years).
It's an alternate history of Asia with the countries represented by Tomoda (Japan), Shang (China), Sanbuna (Philippines), Jeongson (Korea), and Dahali (India). The main characters represent each of the countries and have to find a way to work with each other (like the crew of the Rocinante in The Expanse series by James S.A. Corey).
Despite the alternate history, there the time frame is modern. There are cars and electric lights though the sources of motive energy varies by culture.
The descriptions of the four cultures are deep and enjoyable (like the best steaming dish of Kung Pao Shrimp or Bulgogi).
Twice the author did something very creative with flashbacks. He laid out a scene, then in the next chapter went back and described what had happened from another character's point of view. There was something pleasant about the way he did this.
Paul came up with a very unique magic system: shadowpacting and metalpacting. Shang and the Sanbunas used shadowpacting where they would magically bond with another creature and could call them up by name. When called up, the creature would be magically larger and more powerful than the original creature. They could be used to power large wagons or (in the case of shadowpacted fish/sharks) ships. The Tomodanese practiced metalpacting where they could move their cars or heat pots through that type of magic.
I highly recommend this book and I've already pre-ordered the Kindle edition on that website that shall not be named.
This book will reward a careful and patient reader who takes the time to get to know the characters. It may be hard to follow at first (I admit that, as a person who's totally unfamiliar with Asian names, languages, and cultures, it took me a while to keep track of what was going on). But by the time the plot kicked into high gear, the characters' origins felt richly textured, with their backgrounds in various fantastic countries and factions providing compelling motives and pressures without falling too neatly into any tidy boxes of "Here's a person from country X where they all do Y." In fact, one of the biggest strengths of this book is watching the characters get their own cultural assumptions challenged--watching them grow and change, or not; watching them fulfill or subvert expectations, showing themselves to be strong, resilient, flawed, flexible, and always deeply human. By the end, the triumphs felt cathartic, the losses felt devastating, and the world definitely felt like a place where I wanted to spend more time. (Seriously, while this is a standalone, I hope Krueger eventually gets the chance to write more in this universe.)
This book will be a good push out of the comfort zone for many "traditional" fantasy fans, and a delightful ride for fans of Saladin Ahmed, Fonda Lee, and other authors who are doing something genuinely new and different that pushes the limits of the genre.
I follow the author on Twitter and was amused but not surprised to hear that the book was being described as a grown up remix of Pokemon and Avatar: The Last Airbender. And the book really lived up to it, not only with the magic gimmicks, but with the worldbuilding, for which there is only one appropriate word: rich.
Where the story did fall down a bit for me was in pacing - especially during the middle in a character POV I was less interested in (ie, anyone who was not Xiulan) - I felt like we were having to move an awful lot to not get very far. It also sometimes felt like there was just a whole lot for one book.
But the themes of trauma and healing, of forgiveness and empathy, and prejudice, of loss and finding family really gave the story an unexpected punch, especially when it all came together at the end.
And I just want to add how very much I enjoyed the running gag about Bai Junjie, and, really, just everything about Xiulan and her romance (that's some prime f/f shipping material and it's CANON). She is the small-whiny-sibling-out-to-prove-themself of MY HEART.