★★★★☆ // ★★★★★
I got an ARC of Steel Crow Saga from BookCon this year. Though I hadn’t actually heard of SCS and it hadn’t been pitched to me for review (yet, at least), for some reason I still decided to read it first, and that was such a good decision.
Please don’t sleep on this book. Don’t think to yourself “huh, I haven’t heard much hype about this, it isn’t YA, I’m not sure what to make of this premise” and read something else instead. Read this book. Read it because it’s great and I’ll tell you why.
1. The Characters
Paul Kreuger manages to create characters who are believable, who make predictable-yet-unpredictable decisions, who deal with trauma and anger and sadness and betrayal and still move the story forward. I love the multiple POVs. I love the way he writes all of his characters, the way each one feels unique. They aren’t just pieces in different places on his storyboard; they are unique, individual characters who drive their stories in different ways. I love that I can tell who a character is just by their dialogue. I love that I have favorites. That means Kreuger has done a great job.
2. The Plot
It feels like the plot and the characters are equally important, as opposed to most extremely plot-driven fantasy novels. I love that. The plot does stand on its own, though, and I definitely said “oh, shit” once or twice. It kept me invested, to the point where I would read on my commute and refused to put the book down until I was sitting at my desk and signed into my computer. I read at lunch, while I ate. I couldn’t stop, and it was made even better by the fact that Steel Crow Saga is just long enough that you can really lose yourself in it. It’s the perfect length.
3. The Setting & Worldbuilding
This is really the only part that didn’t immediately charm me, but it wasn’t a lasting issue. Just the fact that Kreuger takes directly from real Asian countries and real military histories threw me for a loop at the beginning; it was so obviously an exact copy of a specific culture that I had to kind of reprogram my brain’s expectations — this is a fantasy book, after all, so I just wasn’t expecting such direct pulls from real life. But I also love shows like Avatar: The Last Airbender which are also (slightly less direct) pulls from specific Asian cultures, and have seen countless fantasies “inspired” by different aspects of Asian cultures that (rightfully) get flack because they blend multiple cultures together and further the myth that Asian cultures are interchangeable, which they absolutely are not. They vary widely and each deserve respect. In this way, I think it’s great that Kreuger differentiates these cultures and makes sure the reader gets a sense of the individuality of each of them. By the end, the direct pulls from the real world didn’t bother me as much, and I still absolutely adored the characters, plot, and “pacting” magic. The worldbuilding was fleshed out and felt purposeful. Also worth noting that I am not Asian, and thus my opinion here should absolutely be taken with a grain of salt.
4. The Rest
I think of Steel Crow Saga as kind of a mix between The Legend of Korra (for the uninitiated, LoK is the sequel series to Avatar: The Last Airbender), Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, and something very unique. In a Tweet, Kreuger mentioned he was going for the same YA crossover space as A Darker Shade of Magic by VE Schwab, which is also an adult fantasy but gained a huge amount of popularity with YA readers. I think he’s done extremely well, and I hope the numbers prove that when the book releases. It was a lovely ride, and I’m kind of annoyed that I got to experience it so early, because that means I’ll have to wait even longer for more. It officially releases September 24, 2019.
Overall, I highly recommend Steel Crow Saga, and I’m glad I had the privilege of creating the very first meme of the series. Here’s to many more — and thank you, Mr. Keruger, for sharing this story with us.