Just like her father who trained her, Raven Steele is a ‘Reaper.’ A Reaper is an assassin, but one who lives by a very strict moral code, which can be remembered by it’s poem-like character:
Human life has value.
The poor living in the gutter are as valuable as the rich living in a manor.
The scoundrel is no less valuable than the saint.
Because of this, every life a reaper takes must be redeemed.
She has spent a great deal of time (ever since her father died) trying to redeem herself for all the lives she’s taken and she believes she is just about even and ready to settle down and spend her days in a more conventional manner when she is asked to take on a job that she cannot ignore.
Raven saves the life of a young boy who is drowning. The boy is Darius, the youthful baron of New Haven. Darius is prone to strange fits and Darius’ older brother, Solomon, begs Raven to take Darius away and protect him from their father who is ready to kill Darius because he fears the boy is possessed by the devil.
The pair are hunted by Captain Jack Grant by orders of the Duke, Darius’ father. They will have to find friends in unusual places to help them fight off the enemies, known and new alike. And Raven may have to atone for a new set of lives when the ordeal is complete.
Pauline Creeden’s writing is so smooth I was sucked into this story in the first few pages. The basic storyline is quite direct and the reader is not likely to get lost following the characters or the story and I quite appreciated that. So many books try to do too much with subplots galore and a cast of thousands.
What doesn’t quite work as well as the the story and the writing is the world-building. From the onset this feels like a classic YA fantasy in a sort of nebulous alternate universe or post-apocalyptic world where there are swords rather than AK-47’s and magic has a place. And for that, this is just fine. But there’s a hint of something else. Steampunk. There are dirigibles and steam-powered horses and a few other steampunk tropes.
And it wasn’t necessary.
For this reader, these moments of steampunkness took me out of the story because a good steampunk story needs to make use of the tools and values of a Victorian-era steampunk world to make it worth reading and this book never capitalized on this aspect. It felt much more as though the idea to add a little steampunk to the book might broaden the reader base, but it wasn’t fully committed to being a steampunk story.
This book was first published in 2014 (yes, I am that far behind in my ARC reading) and as I think about it a bit, I believe that there was some really exceptional YA fantasy published in those couple years around 2014-2016, and Creeden’s work stands up well to some of the best YA fantasy adventure of the period.
Looking for a good book? Chronicles of Steele: Raven by Pauline Creeden is a fantasy/adventure YA book that moves swiftly with a wonderful concept and unlikely but delightful main characters.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.
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Chronicles of Steele: Raven
author: Pauline Creeden
series: Chronicles of Steele: Raven #1-4
publisher: AltWit Press
paperback, 248 pages