Monday, June 6, 2016

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

Here's a book that has a great central character: quick-thinking, curious, smart, determined, loyal; she pulls her weight as the only female steeplejack scaling the towers, chimneys, and spires of Bar-Selehm, a semi-steampunk, somewhat Victorian version of an alternate South Africa. That's a first in world building, for me, as is AJ Hartley's appropriation of our South Africa's history: colonialism, apartheid, and a strictly tiered society, woven into a tight culture. Into this, he plunked Anglet Sutonga, our chimney climbing heroine, smack in the center of a mystery. (I'm going to skip a lot of things I might have written yesterday, such as my fascination that a white male chose to write about a young woman of color, in an area vastly different from where he lives, and what he has studied. That's because today, there's a blogpost by Hartley on Tor that makes much of my thoughts redundant. Check it out.)

The story starts with Ang's discovery that her new apprentice has been found dead, apparently of a fall. She, however, suspects foul play. The police aren't interested. The city becomes obsessed instead, with the theft of The Beacon, the icon that has lit the city's night-sky for years. Ang continues to ask questions, to poke the anthill. She enters into an uneasy alliance with a a young politician, who alone in the city obsessed with the missing light, seems concerned about the death of her apprentice. There's one of the most amazing chase scenes I've read-- it played out like parkour over the rooftops of the city. And there's humanity-- rich depictions of the customs and practices of a tiered society, the interweaving of cultures, and the conflicts of expectations for individuals who slide between the layers.

I used to kid myself. I'd say I primarily picked up YA books to see what my kids, and then later, my grandkids, were reading. But I've found that, baring the occasional vampire/werewolf sequence, or silly princesses, there are thoughtful, well-written, attention grabbing books out there, which are aimed at a YA market, or have a YA appropriately-aged central character, but really do make a cross-over.  AJ Hartley's <i> Steeplejack</i>  jumped that steeple-high space to grab me, despite the 40 + year age difference between the central character and the reader. Good writing can do that.

Full disclosure: I was visiting the offices at Tor last week, and was given this book by Diana Pho. To be honest, the fact that she is the editor only makes me like it more.

Publication date for this book is June 14, 2016.

tags: 2016-readalternate-historydidn-t-want-to-put-it-downfantasygrandgirl-nonsparkly-foddergreat-coverliterary-mysterymade-me-look-something-upmade-me-thinkpart-start-of-a-seriesreadread-on-recommendationsteampunkthought-provokingtorwill-look-for-more-by-this-authorya-lit

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