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Review – Steel Crow Saga by Paul Krueger

Paul Krueger - Steel Crow Saga cropped for featured image
Steel Crow Saga
Overall
9/10
9/10
  • Writing - 9/10
    9/10
  • Plot - 9/10
    9/10
  • Overall - 9/10
    9/10
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Summary

Author: Paul Krueger
Page count: 528
Release Date: September 24, 2019

Four destinies collide in a unique fantasy world of war and wonders, where empire is won with enchanted steel and magical animal companions fight alongside their masters in battle.

Steel Crow Saga by Paul Krueger

Steel Crow Saga by Paul Krueger is a standalone Asian-inspired epic fantasy with ever-present but well-conceived worldbuilding. It is also a rare commodity: a 500+ page pageturner. If any of these things appeal to you, you’ll definitely want to pick this up.

What is Steel Crow Saga About?

Paul Krueger - Steel Crow SagaSteel Crow Saga follows four characters. Lee is a thief who starts the book on the way to the executioner after a betrayal. Fortuitously, Xiulan, detective and 28th princess of Shang, sees potential in her. Xiulan recruits Lee to help her find the crown prince of Tomoda, so Xiulan can gain favor from her father. Jimuro is the young crown prince of the fallen Tomoda empire, returning home after imprisonment in Sanbuna. Tala is a Sanbuna soldier who lost everything to the Tomoda empire, charged with protecting Jimuro. Jimuro and Tala’s journey suddenly becomes a lot harder than they expect when a mysterious figure attacks. This book has a lot of twists and turns, along with a lot of action.

The elevator pitch for this book is Avatar: The Last Airbender meets Pokemon. If you’ve seen Avatar: The Last Airbender (not the movie! never the movie!), its influence is obvious in a facile sort of way from the above description (heir tries to get human prize to gain favor). Shang and Sanbuna people traditionally pact with animals, where the pactmaker asks what they can do for their new partner. If the two sides agree, this process turns the animal into a “shade” and makes them stronger than they would naturally be. After they pact, the pair try to be the very best (in combat and other pursuits). As a reader, this is very cool.

Tomodans believe this practice to be horrendous; they see the shades as slaves unable to consent to shadepacting. They are not without entirely without magic; Tomodans are able to metalpact (like steelbending, which influences the world in interesting ways). Their need for steel fueled their empire. Gee, I wonder if the impact of empires is relevant here…

Themes! Not Just for Eighth Grade Book Reports!

Even though they are written in two completely different styles, it would be interesting to pair The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix Harrow with Steel Crow Saga. Both books are virulently anti-colonialist (both books are also part of the Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers program). The former (which I reviewed earlier this month) is fairly allegorical: it does not literally depict a colonialist country committing wrongs. The latter is literal: Tomoda’s colonialist actions have harmed Tomoda and its colonies, whether Tomodans recognize it or not. The war that brought Tomoda down has not fixed things either; now Shang is the country closest to the top. Almost every scene is impacted by colonialism and the characters’ cultural differences. Xiulan and Jimuro need to learn how to make amends.

Cooperation is also a big theme in Steel Crow Saga. Apart from the shadepacting tradition described above, emphasis on the importance of teamwork can be seen in the character teams. Lee considers loyalty to herself more important than loyalty to others, including Xiulan. To succeed, Lee has to get comfortable with having a partner. Tala hates Jimuro and Jimuro thinks that Tala is barbaric, but adversity forces them into a team. If they don’t work together, it’s likely one or the other won’t survive. Steel Crow Saga believes that solutions are found through peaceful cooperation.

Conclusion: Steel Crow Saga Is Worth Your Time

I really enjoyed this book. Once I got about 30% through, I did not put my Kindle down, even though I had planned to stop and work on something else. What can I say? Long pageturners with strong themes are my aesthetic. If someone isn’t really an epic fantasy reader, they may find a good entry point in Steel Crow Saga. I hope Paul Krueger finds a story with which to return to this universe sometime soon. 

I received this title from NetGalley in exchange for a fair review.

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About the author

Siobhan Dempsey

Siobhan needs books to function, and therefore can infodump quite a lot about them, particularly when they're either science fiction or fantasy.

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