The Sin in the Steel by Ryan Van Loan

Sharpen your poignards and buckle your swashes for some foul-mouthed, high seas, sacrilegious anarchy with your favorite teenage smartass and her soul-searching, shell-shocked best pal.
The Sin in the Steel book cover

Ryan Van Loan's The Sin in the Steel is a thoroughly enjoyable adventure about a wicked-smahht, pissed-off, teenage revolutionary and her damaged soldier friend who are hired by a massive trading corporation to find out why their ships are disappearing along an important trade route. Could it be mad mages? Pirates? Asshole, vengeful gods and their mad cult followers? Perhaps a combination of all three?

Buc is gifted with genius intelligence but was given a shitty lot in life. An orphan, growing up on the hard city streets, Buc learned how to wield knives and use her wits to stay alive. Her destitution and rebellious attitude evolved into arrogance and disgust for the way the world is: vengeful gods, nonsensical religions, corporate sleaze, and imperial politics around every corner. So she decided to make it her life’s mission to upend the status quo and change the world. 

Buc reminds of a sixteen-year-old Alexander Hamilton, if Hamilton were into stabbing and mayhem.

Her companion Eld is a talented but despondent soldier with a tragic past and a deep hatred for magic after being dishonorably discharged from the military. He and Buc find each other at the right moment in time, pulling each other up by their bootstraps to form a strong bond of care and support with the same mission to accomplish: overturn the hierarchy responsible for the oppression that seeps through every pore of society.

The book utlizes quite a bit of humor, but since this is mostly set in a world of pirates, it's not going to be Sesame Street jokes. I quite enjoyed the constant levity as well as the different magical engineering contraptions that were peppered through the story, but there are a couple of elements that prevented me from giving this book a higher score.

First, Buc’s intelligence was often overshadowed by her total arrogance and kneejerk, poor decision-making. For someone who’s supposed to be so smart, it was tough to buy into her character completely. Even though she's only sixteen and is not expected to act as rational as she had planned, it still seemed a bit off that she was unable to hold back her temper or tongue and made everything much worse. This made her downright unlikeable at times. Also, many of her successful plans were circumstancial. She's more lucky -- incredibly, unbelievably lucky -- than a brilliant planner. She has a sharp memory, but I'm not sold on her being the Sherlock Holmes of this story.

There was also a noticeable slowdown of pacing towards the back half of the book, and it took me about twice as long to get through it as the first half. The end, however, pulled the various strings together nicely.

The story ends on a high note, and promises some very different, interesting perspectives for the next entry. There's some weird new dynamics -- in a good way -- and some new fish to fry. (Sailor's joke! Yarrrr.) So sharpen your poignards and buckle your swashes for some foul-mouthed, high seas, sacrilegious anarchy with your favorite teenage smartass and her soul-searching, shell-shocked best pal. Ryan Van Loan has created a world thick with intrigue in his debut novel and I get a sense that the best is yet to come.

The Sin in the Steel will be released on July 21, 2020 by Tor Books.

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