by Carrie Vaughn
Published on March 13, 2012 by HarperTeen
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
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A mysterious broken sword transports a modern teen 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 she 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!
Steel is “a swashbuckling tale of magic, romance, and pirates,” or so the front cover tagline claims. There were pirates, sure, and a little magic. The romance might have happened at some point but it was so slight I must have missed it. As a whole, the “swashbuckling” adventure promised by the back cover blurb failed to make an appearance. Instead, I was treated to a dull story about a teen girl who is whisked back in time and lands aboard a pirate ship. She joins the crew and while with the pirates, scrubs the ship (this composes a decent part of the story) before the build-up to the big fight comes. It came. It went. Nothing memorable. For my first experience with Vaughn’s writing, I wasn’t impressed and am not inclined to read anything else by her.
My biggest issue with this book is the lack of characterization. I understand it’s a short book. Okay, that’s fine, but it’s no excuse to write flat, 2D characters. Jill, the protagonist, bored me. The teen had the personality of a cardboard box, which is a shame because the beginning of the novel offered a good set-up for her future development and growth. There was never a time where I felt I truly connected with Jill. Despite the “danger” she was in, I felt nothing but apathy toward her situation, the same feeling which Jill’s character conveyed for her situation herself throughout the story. I wanted to like Jill, but I just couldn’t. Regarding the rest of the cast, the only character I remotely liked was Captain Cooper, a strong female pirate who takes Jill in when the teen appears hundreds of years before her time. Upon finishing Steel, however, I couldn’t tell one from the other. If the characters had been stronger, I don’t think I’d have disliked this book so much.
As with the characters, the writing and plot offered nothing special. The writing didn’t pull me in, but kept me at a distance from the story. The plot felt too…bland. This novel is supposed to be about pirates and adventure, yet I felt like it would make a better Disney show for younger children. I never felt like the characters were ever in any real danger. Scenes that could’ve been condensed were drawn out and dragged the story along while the more tense and “exciting” scenes went by with the blandness plaguing Steel. I did enjoy that Vaughn appeared to research pirates and sailing before writing this novel but at the same time, it didn’t make the characters or the story stronger like I would have liked to see.
While I usually finish a book the day I start it, I began Steel over three months ago and just now finished it. I’d describe the novel as boring and deceiving. I mean, look at that gorgeous cover. Who wouldn’t pick this book up? Everything about its appearance draws the reader in but it’s only a pretty picture. You should, of course, make your own decision on this book but I will say that I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. I regret spending the time to finish it.