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Friday, May 13, 2011

PiRat: Steel by Carrie Vaughn

Every Friday throughout May, The Book Rat will be forcibly taken over by the PiRat, most dread rodent to appear on the high seas since Reepicheep.
Capt. PiRat will be sharing with us his take on some swashbuckling tales - because what's a rat to do in all that downtime when he's not marauding?  Read, of course...
(and drink rum. but that's a given.)


Carrie Vaughn

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.
The Book Rat Says:
There are a lot of elements to Steel that seem as if its bound to be a win.
Fencing? ☑
Pirates? ☑
Time travel? ☑
A touch of romance? ☑
They’re all there.  But I never really connected to Steel the way I would have liked.

I mean, it was enjoyable enough, but there were some things that held me back and created a bit of a disconnect.  Jill was a bit too moody and petulant for me.  I get that she’s a teen (and probably a spoiled rich one - who else fences?), and I get that super competitive people are really hard on themselves and can get pretty pissy when they don’t do as well as they want/anticipate.  But that’s part of why I’m not friends with a lot of super competitive people.  I don’t want to watch you sulk, or listen to you bitch and moan.

And realistically, I think this was part of the point.  Not only is it part of Jill’s character, but it’s this whole transformative growth mumbojumbo wherein Jill realizes that losing a fencing match is maybe not so important in the grand scheme of things.  And her turnaround begins pretty quickly, so it really shouldn’t bother me the way it does.  But the fact is, the Jill I met in the beginning of the story stayed with me throughout - in my head, at least - and prevented me from really loving the book.  It felt a little too after-school-special, and I’ve always doubted that the spoiled rich kids who learn the value of blahblahblah in those specials actually change and remember said value for long.

Now, lest you think I completely dislike Jill, let me correct you: I did like her and root for her, but part of that, I think, was just that she’s the main character and therefore who I was supposed to root for.  My irritation with her was for the most part slight, but it was there, and it contributed to my mehness about the book.

Also a contributing factor was the “unreality” of it all.  I mean, yes, she’s a fencer and she ends up on a pirate ship where she learns where her skills really come from, historically, and how to put them to good use and actually swordfight, not just playact, and golly isn’t that swell.  But I never had a real sense of time in the book (was she there days?  Weeks?  Months?  I don’t frakking know.), so I found it sort of silly when everyone is willing to let her fight Mr Big Bad.  She’s a high school fencer, for jeebus sake.  I think it would have taken him about .02 seconds to run her through in reality.  Again, it was kind of after-school-special (which I’ve just realized abbreviates to ASS), and I just didn’t buy it.  I think maybe younger kids, tweens and early teens, would eat this up and not have a problem with the lack of believability in this respect, but it nagged at me.

Those two larger things aside, I liked the book well enough, though I never felt compelled to read it.  The piracy was rollicking and fun, and pretty well researched, I’d say (though a bit sanitized), and there was a good feel to the book, a good sense of place.  Whether in the Caribbean or on the ocean, it all felt very scenic and pretty fully realized, and I enjoyed that.  The reader gets to learn the world and explore it through Jill, and from that aspect it worked for me.  In the end, I didn’t feel it was a waste of my time, but it didn’t keep me on the edge of my seat, either.  I think it will find a welcome audience with younger girls, and I think seeing strong women like Pirate Queen Marjory Cooper and Jill (later in the book, when she’s left bratty behind) will be welcome to the young girls who do read it.  But I wanted more, and have a feeling it will fade from memory pretty quickly.

Capt. PiRat Says:
Yar, there be swashbucklin' aplenty in Steel.  But this Jill be a barmy lass if she think a little bit of frippering with an epeĆ© prepare her for piratin'.  That be playactin'.
Bein' a pirate means days o' hard working - and nights o' hard drinking.  Little Jilly be plucky enough, but she's no Anne Bonny.


Get your fill o' pirate booty o'er at vvb32 reads all month long, and make sure to stop back by next Friday for more PiRat Reads. 
Treasure map for next week: 


  1. hmmm, glad to hear jill leaves bratty behind.

  2. Ha ha, I loved the PiRat's remarks. :) I love the idea of a book about chic pirates, but am sorry to hear the believability factor was off. Sounds like a fun read, anyway!

    Can't wait till you review Dust of 100 Dogs-- I know it well, since it's at the very top of my goodreads to-read list. :)

  3. I agree with a lot of what you said. I did really enjoy the book, but it wasn't overly memorable, and there was more than a little that wasn't terribly believable (the innocent young fencer holding her own against the big bad nasty...)

    Liked it, but there wasn't a ton to it.

    And, Umm... LOVE PiRat! :)

  4. I thought this sounded like a fun read -- I probably wouldn't go in expecting realism, just swashbuckling adventure. I mean, come on, it's a girl sent back in time to a pirate ship. Doesn't get more unrealistic than that ;)


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