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Steal the Sky by Megan E. O’Keefe

Steal the Sky by Megan E. O’Keefe
Book Name: Steal the Sky
Author: Megan E. O’Keefe
Publisher(s): Angry Robot
Formatt: Paperback / Ebook
Genre(s): Fantasy / Steampunk
Release Date: January 5, 2016

Detan Honding is a thief of noble birth, ever accompanied by Tibs, his right hand man. The pair find themselves in the desert city of Aransa, roped in to a plan to steal a great airship called The Larkspur. Meanwhile, a series of murders across the city cause panic and a manhunt ensues for a mysterious ‘doppel’; a person capable of changing their appearance using a strange substance known as selium.

Selium, or sel for short, is at the heart of the story. The lighter-than-air sel appears to be used for almost everything. It’s what keeps the great airships afloat, and it’s even used to make drinks; but most importantly, it can be found and manipulated by people who are ‘sel-sensitive’. Not everyone is sensitive, and sel is so important to the economy of the world that those who are sensitive are made to work in the dangerous selium mines. Some sel-sensitives are so adept at manipulating sel that they can use it to change their appearance, and even black out the sky. And some can use it as a weapon.

Steal the Sky is the first book by Megan E. O’Keefe, although you wouldn’t be able to tell just by reading it. Megan has a great confidence in her own writing that shines throughout this steampunk adventure. By far the biggest strength of this book is its setting. Aransa is an oasis in an unforgiving desert. The city is laid out in tiers, with the 1% taking the top-most tiers, full of luxury houses and gardens, while the 99% take the rest. It’s an interesting visual, seeing the strata of society laid out quite literally with the richest at the top, and everyone else holding them up. Unfortunately, the city is never explored as much as you’d like it to be, and it doesn’t feel as lively as its layout would have you think. It serves as a pretty backdrop for our protagonists and other inhabitants are only ever there if they need to be.

What does add life to the population however, is the language. O’Keefe very cleverly turns a lot of real life phrases and idioms on their heads in the context of the cities culture. ‘You’re pulling my sail’, for example, in reference to the sails of the airships which dominate the skies and are the main mode of transport in this world. At first, encountering these phrases takes you out of the story a bit, but once you get used to it they’re very endearing, and give a real sense of culture. Other authors have tried this before but it doesn’t always work out so well. O’Keefe also doesn’t use it as crutch to hide swear words; there’s plenty of ‘fucks’ and ‘shits’ in there too.

O’Keefe spins a number of pretty good one liners and clever dialogue, too. When asked at one point if he’s made any plans, Detan Honding replies with, “Plans? I don’t make plans. I allow for options”. Another sentence that had me laughing was “It was an offensively gentle sound, like fairies pissing on a tin roof”.

The characters themselves didn’t make a huge impression on me. Detan and Tibs felt a little too much like a pastiche of Locke and Jean from the Gentlemen Bastard series, with only half the wit. Thratia, the main antagonist, was cartoonishly evil at times, although her motives were made clear by the end of the book. Pelkaia, the doppel, is the most interesting character, but doesn’t really take centre stage until the last half of the book. A number of times I felt the characters made some odd leaps in their thinking, and I found myself saying, “How did you get there from that?”

This did serve in helping the plot to keep its forward momentum, however, and the pacing was perfect. It never felt like you spent too long in one scene, and the characters are constantly on the move. The tension rises throughout, leading up to an action packed third act, with some characters living up to their full potential. Mysteries keep unfolding, and you never truly learn the whole story, which means that there is now yet another series that I’m eagerly anticipating the follow up to.

Overall I felt that Steal the Sky was a strong start, and we can expect some great things in the future for this series.


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