Steeplejack by A. J. Hartley

A classic mystery unfolds in this historical fantasy for teens, with an appealing heroine, a multi-racial cast of characters, and an exotic setting.

Steeplejack by A. J. Hartley.  Tor Teen, 2016, 334 pages


Reading Level: Teen, ages 12-15

Recommended for: ages 15-18

Anglet Sulonga, 17, is a “steeplejack in the city of Bar-Selehm—the old part, where the chimneys of the massive stone buildings are crumbling.  Her job is not merely cleaning the chimneys but repairing them, a high-risk career that claims colleagues younger than she.  It’s no great shock when her new apprentice, only ten years old, falls to his death even before she meets him, but the knife wound in the boy’s back tells Anglet it was no accident.  And when a wealthy luxorite merchant commits suicide, others in the city aren’t convinced by that scenario either.  Anglet finds herself in a unique position for connecting the dots, but she won’t be allowed to do it in peace.

This is a classic murder mystery with clues, investigations, false leads, and narrow escapes.  The setting is alternate-history South Africa, with its white overlords, black tribesmen, mixed-race servile class (such as Anglet), and racial tensions threatening to boil over, especially when the country’s chief export, luxorite—a gem with its own luminous power—is involved.  There’s a lot going on here, including Anglet’s family problems and employer problems, added to the problem that someone is usually trying to kill her and she doesn’t always know who.  The central mystery is always in view, developing toward a satisfying climax.  Anglet is quick-witted and light on her feet, an appealing narrator whose kindness hasn’t been pulverized by life’s hard knocks.  This being alternate history, some African animals are invented, as well as the nation’s prize mineral, and the religion seems to be pagan, with numerous references to “the gods” rather than God.  Interesting question: would the staid Victorian society represented here have developed in a polytheistic culture?  Another question: Anglet misrepresents herself several times while investigating the murder—is it okay to lie in order to get at the truth?
Cautions: Language (2 hell’s, 1 damned, 2 by god); sensuality (an attempted rape, not graphic)

Overall Rating: 4 (out of 5)

Worldview/moral value: 3.75

Artistic value: 4.25

Christian book review, multicultural, teen, Steeplejack, A. J. Hartley, South Africa, fantasy, historical fantasy, mystery

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Janie is the VERY senior staff writer for Redeemed Reader, as well as a long-time contributor to WORLD Magazine and an author of nine books for children. The rest of the time she's long-distance smooching on her four grandchildren (not an easy task). She lives with her equally senior husband of almost-fifty years in the Ozarks of Missouri.

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