Author: Carrie Vaughn
Format Reviewed: ARC copy provided by the publisher
Dimensions: 304 Pages, 6 x 8.75 x 0.97 in
ISBN - 10: 0061547913
ISBN - 13: 9780061547911
Harpercollins Publishers | March 7, 2011 | Hardcover
It was a slender length of rusted steel, tapered to a point at one end and jagged at the other, as if it had broken. A thousand people would step over it and think it trash, but not her.
We were recently lucky enough to receive a few books from HarperCollins Canada to review and Steel by Carrie Vaughn was one of them. I had every intention of finishing this book, with the review up, by the publication date. My last year of undergrad has proved to be one full of presentations, mountains of essays it seems, and novel upon novel to read. This set me back a bit in the books I was able to read, so I apologize. Now that I have my little blurb out of the way, ARGH! on to the review matey....
This was my first Carrie Vaughn experience and I must say, it was a rather pleasant one. This story is about a teenager, Jill, who is a highly competitive fencer. She lives fencing; she breathes fencing; she is fencing. Or so that is the mantra she goes by when the novel first beings. Have you ever wanted something so badly, come within its grasp, only to lose it completely? Well, that is where we meet Jill. She is determined to win to the point where losing is all she can think about when it happens. And then, on a family vacation after Jill's entire fencing world has seemed to crash down upon her, she finds a piece of a rapier. On a trip a sixteen year old girl does not want to be on, after losing a fencing championship that would have placed her as a potential olympian, finding a piece of history seems to brighten up her mood. It is through this historical artifact that Jill's entire world is turned upside down. She ends up going back in time to a period where Pirates –– like Blackbeard –– still roamed the open waters in large quantities.
Vaughn's writing transforms the reader from a hot tropical destination, the the high waters where swash buckling pirates still looted, raided, sailed by their own rules, and fought. History is fascinating; to be able to transport yourself into a different time period is an exhilarating idea. This book does that; it is able to grasp the reader by the collar and drag them into the water with Jill and resurface in a foreign time as a pirate. Honestly, who has never thought of how cool being a pirate would have been?
What I really loved in Steel was the female empowerment that was interwoven into the text throughout. Jill, firstly, is a teenage girl with a love fencing. Although fencing is safe, it is a sport that allows women to pick up a sword and fight. Secondly, Jill has somehow traveled through a space time continuum that places her in the midst of a pirate battle. At first scared, Jill is able to overcome her fears and live life as a pirate would have. The third aspect of the book that was fantastic for enabling female empowerment was the fact the Jill's new captain is a woman. Marjory Cooper is Captain of the ship that finds Jill and well respect to boot. Filled with men, the few women aboard have had to disguise themselves, assert power, and show enormous bouts of strength in order to survive in a male dominated world. I feel like this statement of female strength and power is a comment on the social order as it stands today. Women need to stick up for what they want and infiltrate the patriarchy, rising to the top themselves and flipping the social order on its head.
Where the novel tended to falter for me was in the relationship between Jill and Henry. Henry is a fellow pirate who helps Jill acclimatize to life at sea on board a pirate vessel. Their relationship felt rushed, especially in how everything takes place during the novels climax and ending sequence. I really enjoyed Henry as a stand alone character, but as a companion for Jill it would have been nice to see a little more in terms of character development. The book also fell flat at the end. I sat there feeling incomplete, like I missed something. Since the middle of the book was so strong, you expect a strong ending. Sadly, I didn't see that strength carried through till the end.
Vaughn has brought back the fascination with Pirates that was reinstated into culture by way of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. No, there is no Johnny Depp, but there is a vividly painted picture of what being aboard a pirate ship was all about. Through Vaughn's attention to detail, clothing, and scenery –– with the addition of real life documented pirates in the book –– the novel was fascinating and creates a thrilling ride of action, strength, determination, and hope that all will enjoy.