Book Review: Steel by Carrie Vaughn

The comparisons to the Disney franchise are inevitable. Steel by Carrie Vaughn follows 16-year-old Jill as she travels back in time, and finds herself in the midst of a pirate crew sailing the Caribbean. But make no mistake: there are no signs of Captain Jack Sparrow here, and Vaughn lets you know in an author’s note that it’s deliberate.

Her decision to make her pirates a little tamer than some of the more vicious tales is also deliberate. That’s because more than anything else, Vaughn wrote the book she wanted to write — not what anyone would expect of a YA pirate book.

The result is a story that the author clearly loves, and a heroine who is both tough and vulnerable in all the right ways. Steel offers a unique blend of historical fiction, swashbuckling action, supernatural magic and a little dash of romance. However, a bit more of the romance might have livened up the story a more, along with higher stakes (and therefore higher tension). The sword-fighting scenes are pretty spectacular, though.

Personally, I would have preferred either a much darker pirate tale (some real cutthroats, more dangerous situations and higher stakes) or something more akin to Captain Jack. But those are my personal preferences — and I admire Vaughn’s willingness to stick with what she wanted, and not cater to any expectations.

Steel is also something unique to YA literature; there aren’t many pirate stories written for teens, and Vaughn does a good job of balancing the more glamorous aspects (sword fighting FTW!) with the mundane (swabbing decks … a LOT). And while she admits the historical accuracy is not 100% reliable, Vaughn does offer readers a glimpse at life in the Caribbean during the 18th century.

Steel is in stores on March 15th.

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