Thoughtfully imaginative and action-packed, Steeplejack is New York Times bestselling A. J. Hartley's YA debut set in a 19th-century South African fantasy world Seventeen-year-old Anglet Sutonga lives repairing the chimneys, towers, and spires of the city of Bar-Selehm. Dramatically different communities live and work alongside each other. The white Feldish command the nation’s higher echelons of society. The native Mahweni are divided between city life and the savannah. And then there’s Ang, part of the Lani community who immigrated over generations ago as servants and now mostly live in poverty on Bar-Selehm’s edges. When Ang is supposed to meet her new apprentice Berrit, she finds him dead. That same night, the Beacon, an invaluable historical icon, is stolen. The Beacon’s theft commands the headlines, yet no one seems to care about Berrit’s murder―except for Josiah Willinghouse, an enigmatic young politician. When he offers her a job investigating his death, she plunges headlong into new and unexpected dangers. Meanwhile, crowds gather in protests over the city’s mounting troubles. Rumors surrounding the Beacon’s theft grow. More suspicious deaths occur. With no one to help Ang except Josiah’s haughty younger sister, a savvy newspaper girl, and a kindhearted herder, Ang must rely on her intellect and strength to resolve the mysterious link between Berrit and the missing Beacon before the city descends into chaos.
STEEPLEJACK by A.J. Hartley bursts with rich imagery and world building. Bar-Selehm is a city in a historical South African fantasy world with three primary communities: the white Feldish, the native Mahweni, and the Lani. One major element of the story is how the communities and races interact together and how Ang feels she has no place as she doesn’t adhere to the more traditional Lani customs. The descriptions of the city and the landscape are beautiful, and even with all the smoke and chaos in the city, it clearly feels like a home to Ang as she knows every roof.
The detective/mystery plot is well layered and holds more than one unexpected twist. The story gets even better as Ang teams up with a newspaper girl and a politician’s sister to figure out some of the clues. All are highly intelligent and savvy, and their dialogues are a joy. Ang’s sisters also play important roles, and the strained family relationships are written well and realistically.
Luscious world building, a tense mystery, and a smart heroine combine to make STEEPLEJACK an absolute thrill ride.