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Book Review: Steel by Carrie Vaughn

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Between Spellbound and Steel, I’m starting to think I’m in a reading slump. Help!!

Title & Author: Steel by Carrie Vaughn

Genre: YA- Fantasy lite, Pirates

Release Date: March 15, 2011

Series: Stand alone

Publisher: HarperTeen

How I Got the Book: e-ARC


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. This was the tip of a rapier.

Sixteen-year-old Jill has fought in dozens of fencing tournaments, but she has never held a sharpened blade. When she finds a corroded sword piece on a Caribbean beach, she is instantly intrigued and pockets it as her own personal treasure.

The broken tip holds secrets, though, and it transports Jill through time to the deck of a pirate ship. Stranded in the past and surrounded by strangers, she is forced to sign on as crew. But a pirate’s life is bloody and brief, and as Jill learns about the dark magic that brought her there, she forms a desperate scheme to get home—one that risks everything in a duel to the death with a villainous pirate captain.

Time travel, swordplay, and romance combine in an original high-seas adventure from New York Times bestseller Carrie Vaughn.”

Lots of Action but No Emotional Connection

When I first read the description and saw the word “pirates,” I was all in. I was really looking forward to reading Steel because I haven’t read a really great and fully satisfying pirate fantasy book since Misty Massey’s Mad Kestrel.

For some reason, sailing + pirates + magic = a rarity. Other than Robin Hobb’s Liveship Trader series, I haven’t seen many books that really fit this description. My elevated expectations may be the reason why I ended up feeling a little disappointed with Steel.

The book starts off with Jill vacationing with her family in Jamaica. She’s just lost a fencing tournament and is pretty bummed about life. She’s annoyed with her family and hung up about losing the fencing match by mere seconds. After being bucked off a rocking boat (with a broken rapier that she found on the beach in tow), she’s transported 300 years back in time when pirates dominated the open water.

This is where the story gets a little dicey. Jill gets picked up by Marjory Cooper, a legendary pirate queen, and is forced to become a deckhand on her ship. Jill’s experiences on the ship are recounted in such a dry, clinical way- bare descriptions about the ship, the crew and how hard life has become for her.

I didn’t get any feel for who Jill was as a person. There was almost no characterization, which left me with zero emotional connection to Jill or her adventures as a new pirate.

To me, the story read like a string of action sequences, shifting from cannons blasting to slashing swords to pirate brawls. Just like bam bam bam. The end.

Speaking of the ending, I have to say that I was fairly unhappy with it. There was no closure and no explanation. Not to mention that the book description clearly mentions that there’s “romance,” which it must define as one kiss and a little hand-holding.

The Pros

This book wasn’t all bad, I promise. 🙂 These are some of my favorite moments:

  • The REAL LIFE female pirates mentioned in the book, including Anne Bonny and Mary Read
  • Jill’s transformation from a sulky teenager to a mature adult (complete with scars to show for it)
  • The extremely short-lived romantic-ish relationship between Jill and Henry
  • The seemingly-accurate descriptions of life on a ship and the duties of a deckhand


Between being billed as a romance when it clearly was not and lacking three-dimensional characters, I have to confess that Steel let me down. In general, it was flat and underdeveloped.

Although I think fans of strictly action-based stories might enjoy this novel, the “pros” I listed above are the book’s only redeeming qualities in my opinion. I really, really wanted to like Steel, but this book just wasn’t for me.

Next Review Coming Up: Legacy by Cayla Kluver

About Lisa Parkin

I'm a hardcore lover of young adult fiction and have been reviewing books since 2011. Other interests include Downton Abbey, heat lightning storms, Harry Potter land and (begrudingly) one orange tabby.
  • P E

    I know how you feel, I’m in a reading slump too. I haven’t read Steel yet but it’s too bad you didn’t like it. I think the premise is underdone so I’ll probably check it out. Thanks for the review.

  • Aw, sorry to hear is wasn’t up to par. I was excited to read this book too, but I think I’ll wait now. I get to disappointed if I don’t feel emotionally connected to a book. Thanks for the thorough review!

    P.S. Also, thanks for recommending Nightlight to me! I hadn’t heard of it before, but it’s on my list to read. It sounds hilarious!

  • Iben J

    Great review 🙂

  • Melissa Hayden

    Hmm, sorry to hear you feel you’re in a reading slump with these books lately. I was hoping this one would be a good one. I’ve got it on my WANT list. I had thought it might be part of a series though. I never really knew for sure truthfully. Thanks for the review here.

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