Fiction Reviews


Steel Crow Saga

(2019) Paul Krueger, Gollancz, £16.99, hrdbk, 517pp, ISBN 978-1-473-22900-6

 

Imagine a world like our own, but with its own modern cultural references and mannerisms. This is the world of Kruegerís novel.  Steel Crow Saga is a complex contemporary second world fantasy, something that immediately sets it apart from other works in the fantasy genre which either frame their secondary world in time that parallels a period in our past, or lean heavily on the modern world, limiting there fantastical elements to the direct story they is trying to tell.

Not so with Steel Crow Saga.  Here we have a fully realised secondary world, with a variety of cultural debates and assumptions reframed, along with a use of magic rendered into a functional element of the society it permeates.  In some ways, this element is a shame, as really, this is no longer magic in its truest sense as it has been neutered by being systemised Ė a common trope of fantasy.

However, Krueger is much more ambitious when populating his story with characters.  Steel Crow Saga takes a little while to get going, but the variety of protagonists are a rich mix, with some unique voices and agendas to boot.

Tala is a soldier looking for revenge, but when she is ordered to protect a man who represents everything she hates, she is forced to question her perspective.  Prince Jimuro ruined country is a testimony to the follies of arrogance and expansionism.  Now, he is struggling to live up to the burden of his illustrious past. Xiulan wants to remake the world, but her hatred of things means her vision for the future is flawed and Lee distrusts everyone but is thrown into a situation where trust might be the only option.

These four perspective characters all have flaws and ambitions.  They all seemingly exist in a real society, where the bonds of friendship and family have their place at times and they all undergo gradual change through the narrative, which can be a struggle for any author to balance and not make fitful.

A nod should also be made to the societies of Kruegerís fiction.  Each nation feels distinct and there are elements drawn from a variety of Asian countries in our world.

Steel Crow Saga is worth taking your time over.  The first few chapters require a little adjustment from the reader to get used to the style and depth of the writing.  In many ways, this is similar to Seth Dickinsonís The Traitor, with some detailed character development taking place early on to draw you in.  Once this is done, events move swiftly and quite soon, you find that you care deeply about the fate of the four protagonists.  The differences between each characterís take on events provides the author with plenty of material, as they squabble over each action in a way that does not feel contrived, as the author has done the groundwork early on.  The depth of the societal world-building also allows the story to address questions and topics that you donít often see in fantasy, but without these topics becoming the whole of the story in themselves.

If you are looking for a new fantasy with some depth and detail, Steel Crow Saga might be for you.

Allen Stroud

 


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