Steel Crow Saga by Paul Krueger
Published by Del Rey Books on September 24, 2019
Series: Steel Crow Saga #1
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction, Young Adult
Length: 528 pages Source: BookCon 2019
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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.
A soldier with a curse - Tala lost her family to the empress’s army and has spent her life avenging them in battle. But the empress’s crimes don’t haunt her half as much as the crimes Tala has committed against the laws of magic... and her own flesh and blood.
A prince with a debt - Jimuro has inherited the ashes of an empire. Now that the revolution has brought down his kingdom, he must depend on Tala to bring him home safe. But it was his army who murdered her family. Now Tala will be his redemption—or his downfall.
A detective with a grudge - Xiulan is an eccentric, pipe-smoking detective who can solve any mystery—but the biggest mystery of all is her true identity. She’s a princess in disguise, and she plans to secure her throne by presenting her father with the ultimate prize: the world’s most wanted prince.
A thief with a broken heart - Lee is a small-time criminal who lives by only one law: Leave them before they leave you. But when Princess Xiulan asks her to be her partner in crime—and offers her a magical animal companion as a reward—she can’t say no, and soon finds she doesn’t want to leave the princess behind.
This band of rogues and royals should all be enemies, but they unite for a common purpose: to defeat an unstoppable killer who defies the laws of magic. In this battle, they will forge unexpected bonds of friendship and love that will change their lives—and begin to change the world.
Disclaimer: I received this book for free from BookCon 2019 and Del Rey Books in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
The first major takeaway I have about Steel Crow Saga is that it’s unnecessarily long.
To steal a phrasing from one of the characters, it was a long walk to a very anime battle scene.
The way this book is written falls into very detailed descriptions. There’s not a lot of room for the reader’s imagination in way characters think, feel, or how the world works. Steel Crow Saga is written from four perspectives and by the time you reach the end of the book, you know pretty well how each of them thinks, multiple stories from their past, how they feel about their families, and their personal moral compasses. Regardless of how each flashback relates (or doesn’t) to the story… it’s all there. The wordiness in the writing style doubled with all this fleshing out made this a bit of a boring read for me.
Behind the author’s particular style, there’s a uniqueness to this book. Steel Crow Saga definitely draws inspiration from anime, and that’s something you don’t see in your casual epic fantasy. The way character should-bind to their familiars (called “shades”) feels very similar to the anime fantasy relationship between heroes and their swords. The relationship between human and shade reminds me of a watered down, more mutually beneficial version of Naruto’s relationship with the nine-tailed fox demon trapped inside him.
Like I said, very anime.
And for that, I have to apologize, because anime really isn’t my thing. It’s my husband’s thing and my familiarity of it is limited to the bits and pieces of what I’ve seen of his playlists. Maybe Naruto isn’t the best choice, but that’s what I’ve got in my repertoire. As I said, it’s a style I haven’t seen before in this format and I respect that uniqueness, but I also have to acknowledge that for all the sappiness and drama and grand gestures, it’s not the style I personally prefer.
The plot itself took the scenic route, with a lot of partner-swapping and sidetracked conversations to give a better idea of the political climate and the various character backgrounds. This may all play into the series plot, but there was some much time between plot sequences that I honestly forgot what the point of the whole thing was about halfway through. Then, fortunately, the villain made a quick appearance somewhere in the 300s and reminded me.
In as far as the characters go, they were all developed and interesting enough in their own accord, but now that I’ve finished, I don’t think I was able to connect with them closely enough that they’ll stay with me now that I’ve finished. I never felt an emotional connection to the characters, who spent a lot of time in discussion and and flat inner monologues. Even the relationship between Lee and Xiulan felt forced and awkward.
The character I liked best was Tala. Even though she was a sergeant, Tala had the most emotion and it was easiest to care about what her character thought and felt. Her actions didn’t always make sense, but she was the driving force that pushed me through some of the rougher bits; this is the advantage to a book with multiple POVs.
There was one scene with Xiulan that stood out to me. It’s made abundantly clear throughout the book that Xiulan had some horrible, traumatic experience with mushrooms (explained near the end). At one point, Xiulan finds herself in a refrigerator essentially being mocked by a box of mushrooms and I’m not sure quite why, but the scene was a bit hilarious. The writing was on point there and I really liked that scene. I don’t want to say more about it and risk spoilers, but look out for the box of MUSHROOMS, y’all.
I think this book would be more memorable to me, personally, if it had been trimmed down by at least 150 pages and condensed more effectively. However, as it stands, I think there will be an audience for this kind of writing. I’ve heard a few people excited for Steel Crow Saga, and I hope these people love it! Unfortunately, it just wasn’t a fit for me and I won’t be continuing the series.
Steel Crow Saga will be donated.
This book was a bit of a struggle for me on the first read through and if it hadn’t been for Tala’s character driving me forward (and perhaps sheer determination) I don’t think I would have finished it. As I mentioned in the review, I don’t know that there was anything fundamentally wrong with the book outside of its wordiness… it just wasn’t a good stylistic fit for my personal tastes. I like characters that make me go through emotional rollercoasters, and writing styles that tantalize my imagination… and that didn’t happen for me in this one.
I’m hoping Steel Crow Saga will end up with someone who likes fantasies that take themselves very seriously and enjoys multi-style battles scenes (firepower + swords + magic).
Which stories would you like to see continued? Sometimes, it’s so hard to say goodbye! Let me know in the comments!