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Chim Chim Cher-ee

Investigate murder and a missing gem in A.J. Hartley’s Steeplejack, the first in the new Alternative Detective series.

Chim Chim Cher-ee

BOOK REPORT for Steeplejack (Alternative Detective #1) by A.J. Hartley

Cover Story: Smog City
BFF Charm: Yay
Swoonworthy Scale: 2 (With Foreshadowing)
Talky Talk: She Said
Trigger Warning: Attempted Rape
Bonus Factor: Diversity
Anti-Bonus Factor: Race Divide
Relationship Status: Hanging On

Cover Story: Smog City

Although my eye was first drawn to the daredevil girl on this cover (which, you go, daredevil girl), I quickly noticed the overwhelming amount of smog in the air surrounding the buildings she’s looking out on. It makes me want to cough or run to find fresh air or give away my car or all of the above.

The Deal:

Anglet “Ang” Sutonga lives and works in the city of Bar-Selehm. She’s a steeplejack, someone who climbs and repairs the highest points in the city (the chimneys, towers, etc.). It’s not the most stable of jobs—quite literally, if she’s not careful, she’ll fall hundreds of feet to a extremely unpleasant death.

Such is the case, or so Ang thinks, when she finds the body of Berrit, a boy who was supposed to be her apprentice, crumpled in an alley. But then she notices the small slit in his neck. The police don’t believe that it was anything more than an accident, and besides, they’re much too preoccupied with the theft of the city’s most prized and famous possession, the Beacon (a giant luminous gemstone).

But Ang knows that there’s more to the story. And when she’s contacted by a somewhat mysterious individual who wants her to investigate, Ang must decide if leaving the only life she knows behind—and putting her life on the line in much different ways—is worth it.

BFF Charm: Yay

I’m honestly somewhat jealous of Ang. Not of her life, specifically, because truth be told it’s kind of crappy. (She’s living a meager existence, doesn’t really have a home, her boss is a horrible person, she’s a member of a lower class of people who are looked down upon …) But her confidence and internal strength, and the fact that heights and dangerous situations are no big thing, make her such an intriguing individual. She’s got the sort of presence that makes waves, and although she likes to think she can become invisible, people remember her. I’m not sure we’d be great friends, but I’d certainly enjoy being in her circle of acquaintances.

Swoonworthy Scale: 2 (With Foreshadowing)

Investigating a murder and trying to keep herself alive keeps Ang from being able to form any sort of swoony relationship with either of the possibilities* in this book, but there are definite hints of things that might eventually come to fruition.

*Not a love triangle situation … yet.

Talky Talk: She Said

In Steeplejack, A.J. Hartley basically asks readers to buckle their seatbelts and join Ang on a wild ride through the streets of Bar-Selehm and the investigation surrounding Berrit’s murder and the stolen Beacon. While reading, I felt a little like Watson to Ang’s Sherlock; Considering that she’s a fictional character and I don’t have magical powers that enable me to jump, physically, into books*, I wasn’t able to offer any real help to her, but Sherlock rarely listens to Watson when they’re in the same room anyway.

Also, the cover, title, and description of Steeplejack might immediately bring to mind steampunk ideas, but the book is more actual Victorian than Victorian-with-steam-powered-gadgets. There is, of course, a fantastical element, with it taking place in a made-up world, but never does Ang sport a parasol that shoots hidden tranquilizer darts.

*I really, really wish I had these magical powers.

Trigger Warning: Attempted Rape

I mentioned above that Ang’s boss is a horrible person. And when I say that, I mean it in the absolute worst sense of the word. Early on in the novel, he tries to get “payment” for Ang’s work in a wholly inappropriate and abhorrent manner. Thankfully, Ang fights back.

Bonus Factor: Diversity

The city of Bar-Selehm is a melting pot of a place, with a variety of cultures and races living together (no so much in harmony, sadly ... see Race Divide below). Ang is a member of the Lani community, a poor immigrant race who live on the outskirts of the city and do the most menial of jobs. I loved that Ang, for all her upbringing lacked, was the main character in the novel, rather than one of the members of the upper (white, natch) class. That said ...

Anti-Bonus Factor: Race Divide

I believe Hartley based the city of Bar-Selehm loosely on areas of Africa that were most affected by colonization (such as South Africa). The city is run/led by the rich white Feldish people. The land used to belong to the Mahweni, a race of tribal black people; some of the Mahweni remain in the savannah that surrounds the city and follow more the old ways of their people, some have transitioned to life in the city. And then there’s the Lani, whose skin color falls somewhere in the middle. The Lani people immigrated to the city with the intent of becoming the working class, but instead slipped into the lowest echelon of poverty.

There are exceptions, of course, but for the most part, the divides between these three people are distinct. And because of that, tensions run high. It’s sort of a downplayed part of the novel, used more for world-building and to escalate the anxiety in the background, but it definitely stood out to me.

Casting Call:

Golshifteh Farahani as Ang

She’s a little too old for the role, but (Hollywood) she’s got the right combination of beauty and strength to do justice to the character.

Relationship Status: Hanging On

I wasn’t totally swept away by your story, Book, but I was certainly intrigued. Your world is both new and a little familiar, and I really enjoyed getting to know Ang. I see big things in the future—both for her and for you. I look forward to our next date.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Tor Teen, but got neither a private dance party with Tom Hiddleston nor money in exchange for this review. Steeplejack is available now.

Mandy Curtis's photo About the Author: Mandy is a small town girl living in a nerdy world, or—if you want to get literal—an editor/writer living in Austin, TX. In addition to yearning for YA books—the more dystopian or fantastical, the better—she can also be found swooning over superheroes, dreaming of The Doctor and grinning at GIFs.
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