Book Review: Steal the Sky by Megan E. O’Keefe
Detan Honding and his partner Tibal (“Tibs” to his friends) are rogues. They steal and swindle for a living, moving frequently from place to place on the Scorched Continent. To keep ahead of their victims, yes, but also for more important reasons. Just now they’re stuck in the city of Aransa with a busted flyer. When Detan tries to raise the needed funds, he finds himself hired to steal the airship Larkspur from its owner, former Imperial commodore Thratia.
Ripka is the city watch captain of Aransa, tasked with keeping the peace and punishing criminals. She’s wary of Thratia’s ambition to become warden of the city. While the Valathean Empire technically rules the Scorched Continent, Thratia may be trying to bring the city under direct Imperial control, which would mean more hardship for the selium miners the city’s economy is based on. Worse, the reason the warden’s chair is open is that someone, probably a shapeshifting doppler, murdered the previous warden. Ripka needs to track down this dangerous killer before they strike again.
Pelkaia is an illusionist; “doppler” is an Imperial word, and she considers it an insult. Aransa has taken the last of her children; she’s got a list of those responsible, and they must all die. And if a few other people die in the process, that might be okay with her. Pelkaia is missing a few vital pieces of information, however. Her vengeance may be misaimed, and that could cost all of Aransa dearly.
These people’s lives are about to collide as each of them attempts to achieve their own goals while thwarting the plans of those they consider enemies.
The Scorched Continent is an interesting fantasy setting. A large landmass in tropical latitudes, it suffered a massive geothermal event that turned it into a volcanic wasteland. As a result, the heat is oppressive even on a good day and much of the land is unable to grow more than scrub. However, the volcanoes are the only known source of selium, which is a buoyant gas (like helium) but is also psychically sensitive, being able to be moved and shaped by those who are “sel-sensitive.” Selium has many uses, including creating airships, so most of the major settlements on the Scorched Continent are near volcanoes so they can be mined.
And this has also affected the society they live in. Sel-sensitive people are in a minority, and anyone known to have some talent in that area is drafted into working with selium in some manner, regardless of the social status they were born into. The government “takes care” of them, but it takes permanent injury to be able to leave the job. Detan has faked the loss of his sel-sense because he has a deadly “deviant” talent. The Empire is rounding up any deviants for their researchers to experiment on, and he suffered enough the first time he fell into their hands.
The first comparison that comes to mind is the Locke Lamora books; I like the characters better in this one. There’s much less of a cynical cast to the personalities; most of these folks are acting for what they believe is a good cause and care for people outside their immediate circle. The villains are that way because they allow their personal ambitions to treat people who aren’t useful to them as expendable. Detan’s selfishness is less about pleasing himself than protecting others from his dangerous temper.
There are multiple tight viewpoints, so at any given point we only learn what the current point of view character knows about events. Detan, Ripka and Pelkaia swap out being the main protagonist, with one chapter near the end being from the viewpoint of a surprise character.
There’s a fair amount of violence, and Detan has medical torture in his backstory. Tibs has what appears to be post-traumatic stress disorder from his military service when the Empire solidified its hold over the Scorched Continent by suppressing the native Catari (of which Pelkaia is one.)
I found the world-building interesting, and there is already a sequel out. This book was enjoyable, and I recommend it to fantasy fans looking for something new.