BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Detan Honding, reprobate and disgraced nobleman, gets caught up in politics and intrigue while trying to make a buck in an important port and manufacturing center.
PROS: Appealing protagonist; diverse cast; a rich world infused with swashbuckling fun.
CONS: More fleshing out the worldbuilding would help strengthen the novel even further.
BOTTOM LINE: A fun, page turning debut.
In Steal the Sky, the debut novel from Megan O’ Keefe, Detan Honding is a disgraced nobleman, a con artist, sometime thief, and wanderer of the Scorched continent, staying away from the Empire as much as he can. With an emergency landing in Aransa, an important port and manufacturing center for the magical material that keeps airships aloft, Honding’s efforts to repair his craft wind up putting him the crosshairs of intrigue and local politics, stuff he’d like to stay out of, thankyouverymuch. Honding is no hero, and certainly only looking out for himself and his partner, Tibal, but watch-captain Ripka Leshe, and a killer on the loose, have other ideas in mind. And then, of course, there is always the Empire…
The novel is designed and written to entertain, and right from the beginning the novel knows precisely what kind of book it wants to be and goes for it. Detan is a charming rogue, not that much of a fighter, but always willing to strive to make a buck, and doubly so to save his own skin. In roleplaying game terms, Detan is a rogue, with lots of persuasion and practical skills, less so with combat, and with a GM who likes to put him through the wringer. The novel is full of escapdes and intrigues and adventures, from infiltrating high class parties, to sneaking around a resort digging up information, to exciting chase scenes through the streets of the city.
This is leavened with the other points of view besides Detan, whose stories have much more weight. The stories of Watch Captain Leshe, immersed in the politics and problems of her position, and the trouble in her city, and of Pelkaia and her darker The intersection of these three stories gives a real human dimension to the novel, and their intersections and interpolations change each of the characters, sometimes (in the case of Detan especially) very much against their will. Their personal journeys provide a real ballast to the novel. That last includes the city of Aransa itself. The author has created a city with real personality and depth. I could see Aransa in my mind’s eye, and imagine it in all of its complexity. The city also goes through changes and development, creating a true execution of “setting as character”.
In addition to rich characterization, the author has also laid down a lot of lines of worldbuilding and constructs a rich, deep world even beyond the city itself. It’s a rich and deep world that we get dropped into, without a lot of preamble, leavened into the narrative well enough to keep readers immersed but not submerged in the details. Still, I would like to learn much more about the geopolitical setup beyond what we see, and some of the esoteric aspects of selium. There is also a backstory to Honding that we only get bits of, leaving the reader to fill in some of the blanks, and I would like to learn more about him, too. Hopefully there is more to come in more novels set in this universe.
The title alone invokes the series Firefly for me, in its lyrics “You can’t take the sky from me,” which keeps in line with the swashbuckling nature of the novel. Although the action is limited to the area around one civilized bastion, this made the novel feel something like a single episode of Firefly, with the action in place on a particular locale, rather than the wanderjahr feel of the series as a whole. I was also reminded of novels such as Chris Wooding’s Tales of the Ketty Jay series, which also has a fantasy world with an airship wandering from place to place. Those novels DO tend to be much more about the journey rather than what happens at ports and locales.
Steal the Sky was a fun, light read, at a time this reviewer sorely needed such a book. I’ll happily read more in the same vein.