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Top of the World, Ma
Created by ggrihn on 8/16/2016 3:06:40 PM

Steeplejack, by A.J. Hartley

Reviewed by Gregory G.H. Rihn, Steampunk Chronicle Literary Editor

Steeplejack is the new novel by A.J. Hartley, author of a dozen other novels in various genres. Steeplejack is of interest to the steampunk reader because it takes place in an interestingly conceived alternate world of 19th Century technology and social development. The milieu is Bar-Selehm, capital of a former colonial region in Africa. Bar-Selehm is uneasily ruled by its white population, who work with both "Assimilated" blacks or Mahweni, and the Lani, brown-skinned immigrants who occupy a place vaguely similar to the South Asians who came to southern Africa in our world as part of British colonial rule. The Lani occupy an in-between role in Bar-Selehm, neither natives nor white. Their work niche consists of skilled trades, such as steeplejack, or crime. Meanwhile, the Nonassimilated Mahweni live their traditional role in the countryside.

The major difference between our world and this is that, instead of diamonds or gold, the precious mineral resource of the region is Luxorite, a luminescent crystal which at one time was mined for industrial lighting, but after the vein played out, has become primarily used for jewelry. The major exception is The Beacon, the world's largest known piece of Luxorite, which shines from the cupola of Bar-Selehm's capital building—until now.

As the book opens, Ang, a Lani steeplejack, mounts the rooftops of a morning and makes two unsettling discoveries. First, the Beacon is missing, a daring theft that would have required the high-working skills of someone like her. Second, a young boy sent to apprentice with her lies dead at the base of the chimney he was to work on, killed not by the fall, but by a stab in the back. Ang suspects that these two events are related, but can do little about it, until she is recruited by an eccentric politician as a most unorthodox investigator.

What follows is an interesting mystery set in a refreshingly new world. Ang proves to be a resourceful investigator, while dealing with both a family crisis, and the fact that the crime boss she used to work for wants her dead. Her investigation will take her from the lowest levels of Bar-Sehlehm's culture to the highest levels of society and governance, while the country teeters on the brink of war.

Ang is a tough and believable protagonist for this high-stakes noirish novel. Reccommended.

Steeplejack at Amazon


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