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.
Pirates! Magical swords! Swashbuckling adventures! Gross historical details that add flavor and color while also grounding it in realism! Steel has everything one could want in a book about time travel, fencing, and being confident in oneself.
What I liked best about Steel was that the protagonist, Jill, was unapologetically skilled at something. She wasn’t a special snowflake, she didn’t magically just KNOW how to use a sword. She worked hard at it, and it paid off. She’s an Olympic-class athlete and that’s awesome!
At the same time, Jill needed to work on her confidence. She’d recently lost a match and it ate at her. She couldn’t even enjoy her fancy family vacation to the Bahamas because of her loss! And after being sucked back through time to land with a bunch of pirates, she still has trouble acknowledging that it wasn’t THAT big of a deal to lose one match.
Eventually, after scrubbing the decks a lot and practicing new fencing techniques with a fellow crew member, Jill regains her sense of worth. But it’s slow-going, and tbh most of the story seems to be “modern girl watches historical people kill each other” more than anything else. I may be pulling most of the self-worth storyline from my butt.
The only thing I didn’t like was the ending. I expected it, because for all that this is a book about time-traveling pirates it still very much stuck to convention. But I WISH it’d done something else. I wish it’d been a little more outlandish. A different kind of ending would have been more exciting, you know?
I was so disappointed with the ending that it discolored the rest of the book for me, which is a shame. But up until that point I’d been enjoying it very much, and what fond feelings I still have for it make me want to read Carrie Vaughn’s other books. So, on the whole, Steel was a success.
Read: January 5-6, 2015