Four destinies collide in a unique fantasy world of war and wonders, where empire is won with enchanted steel and magical animal companions fight alongside their masters in battle.
“Pokémon combined with Avatar: The Last Airbender . . . clever, stylish, and gloriously fun.”—Fonda Lee, author of Jade City
NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY NPR • Tordotcom • Kirkus Reviews
A soldier with a curse
Tala lost her family to the empress’s army and has spent her life avenging them in battle. But the empress’s crimes don’t haunt her half as much as the crimes Tala has committed against the laws of magic . . . and against her own flesh and blood.
A prince with a debt
Jimuro has inherited the ashes of an empire. Now that the revolution has brought down his kingdom, he must depend on Tala to bring him home safe. But it was his army who murdered her family. Now Tala will be his redemption—or his downfall.
A detective with a grudge
Xiulan is an eccentric, pipe-smoking detective who can solve any mystery—but the biggest mystery of all is her true identity. She’s a princess in disguise, and she plans to secure her throne by presenting her father with the ultimate prize: the world’s most wanted prince.
A thief with a broken heart
Lee is a small-time criminal who lives by only one law: Leave them before they leave you. But when Princess Xiulan asks her to be her partner in crime—and offers her a magical animal companion as a reward—she can’t say no, and she soon finds she doesn’t want to leave the princess behind.
This band of rogues and royals should all be enemies, but they unite for a common purpose: to defeat an unstoppable killer who defies the laws of magic. In this battle, they will forge unexpected bonds of friendship and love that will change their lives—and begin to change the world.
Advance praise for Steel Crow Saga
“With fierce women, ferocious creatures, and a sophisticated twist on Pokémon meets Avatar: The Last Airbender, Steel Crow Saga is the fantasy epic you didn't know you needed, creating a rich new mythology and characters so real you can smell their pipe smoke and adobo.”—Delilah S. Dawson, New York Times bestselling author of Star Wars: Phasma
“A heady look at postcolonial emotions, Asian cultures, and anime influences . . . a well-built magical world of warring factions.”—Library Journal (starred review)
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||6.20(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.80(d)|
About the Author
Paul Krueger is a Filipino-American author. His first novel was the urban fantasy Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge. A lapsed Chicagoan, he may now be found literally herding cats in Los Angeles.
Read an Excerpt
This wasn’t Lee Yeon-Ji’s first time in a jail cell, but unless the executioner changed their mind, it was looking to be her last.
The kingdom of Shang had never expected much from women like Lee, and she’d never expected a whole lot from Shang, either. All she’d ever wanted was enough room to slip about, pulling the small jobs and scams that had always kept her stomach and her pockets . . . well, not full, but at least more than empty. That’d been easy enough to manage during the Tomodanese occupation, and she figured it should have been even easier now that the Shang kingdom was rebuilding itself. For the most part, she’d even been right.
She just hadn’t accounted for the depths to which some people would stoop to be a prick.
She didn’t bother getting to her feet as two officers appeared beyond the bars of her cell. They were a tall woman and a short man, in scarlet guard uniforms of fine Shang wool. The tall guard rattled the cell’s bars with her baton. “On your—”
“—feet?” Lee said, with a quirk of her eyebrow. It was thin and long and sharp, like the rest of her face, like the rest of her everything. “That was what you were going to say, right? Figured I’d save you some breath, considering you Shang are about to save me a lot of mine.”
“Mouth off all you want,” said the short guard. “See what kind of mercy that gets you.”
“Oh, come on,” Lee pouted. “Could you convict and execute a face like this?”
The tall guard sneered. “Get on your feet, or I’ll summon my shade and leave it in there with you. You’re just a dogf***er. I wouldn’t even get in trouble.”
There was a time when the slur dogf***er would have hurt Lee’s feelings. But for any of the thousands of Jeongsonese living in Shang, that particular slur lost its impact by their third birthday. And Lee was a good eighteen years removed from her third birthday; she barely even registered the term now.
So in the face of the woman’s threat, Lee just shrugged. “f*** it. Go ahead. If your shade’s a dog, I’d probably find a way to enjoy myself.” The thought of actually f***ing a dog made her skin crawl. But if these puffed-up Shang were dead set on seeing her as nothing more than a dogf***er, why not play the role to the hilt on her way off the stage?
The woman was unamused by Lee’s performance. “You don’t want me to do that, girl. She bites.” She held up a hand, which was missing its last two fingers.
Lee considered pointing out it was extremely unlikely that the shade had done that, since shades were supposed to contain part of their human partner’s soul, and vice versa. But rather than annoy this guard who’d just as soon do the executioner’s job for them, she sighed and stood at last. “Lead the way, Officers,” she said, and let them take her on one last walk through the Kennel.
The prison hadn’t always been called the Kennel. Under Tomodanese control, it had been called Fort Asanuma, after the daito who’d once ruled Jungshao. And before that, in the days of the first Shang kingdom, it had been called the Temple of Justice. Even now, with Tomoda defeated and Shang ascendant once more, it had just been renamed Jungshao Prison. But the locals on both sides of the bars called it the Kennel, and who was Lee to argue with custom?
Besides, in her book there were worse things to be compared to than a dog.
The Kennel’s corridors were open air, the cellblocks forming separate buildings within a larger courtyard. This meant her cell got sunlight most days, but today there were only thick gray clouds and a thin, steady drizzle. The rain collected between the slate tiles underfoot, and they sloshed faintly with each step Lee took toward her impending death.
Some of her fellow inmates sat in their cells and stared at their feet as she passed, slouching like beaten circus animals. Others shouted things at her: Obscenities. Jeers about the gibbet that awaited her. Variations on the same four slurs she’d been hearing her whole life. She found it easy to ignore them all. Her stay in the Kennel had been so brief that if she were a man, she wouldn’t have even had the time to grow decent stubble.
Right by the front gates of the prison stood a gibbet. On one end of it was a high gallows and a trapdoor; on the other, a polished wooden block whose surface was slick with rain. This was the custom in Shang: that condemned citizens would be allowed to take ownership of their death by choosing how they got to make their exit. Lee just wished Shang custom included options like “drowning yourself in soju” or “death by a thousand naked women.”
A few prison guards were there to oversee the execution. A white-robed executioner stood atop the gibbet, leaning on a huge, heavy saber. And waiting at the foot of the stairs was the strikingly handsome Magistrate How, arguably the most powerful man in the newly liberated province of Jungshao. He hadn’t been the first enemy Lee had made in her life, but apparently he was going to be the last.
Lee smiled mirthlessly to herself. He’d come to see her off personally. How thoughtful of him.
A squat woman fell into step next to her: Warden Qu. She looked oddly at home in the rain, but perhaps it only seemed that way because of her toadlike appearance. “What will it be, Lee?” she said. “The rope or the blade?”
“Don’t suppose you’d let me order off the menu?” Lee said. She kept her tone even, but her traitor heart started to race as she eyed her two choices. It’d been easy to remain cool and detached before now, hiding behind smirks, snark, and silence. But you couldn’t exactly smile your way out from under the shadow of a gibbet.
“You’re hardly the first guest to make that comment.” The warden sighed. She always referred to the inmates as guests, like they were all friends bunking together at a roadside inn. “Have you made your choice?”
Lee did the math. Escape was impossible. If she made a break for it, they’d either shoot her or sic their shades on her. And it wasn’t like she had one of her own to summon; her native Jeongson was a vassal state of Shang, and only Shang-born citizens were allowed to know the secrets of shadepacting. Not that the steelhounds had been better, the bastards. Some of the Jeongsonese had actually welcomed Tomoda when they’d first arrived on Shang’s shores, eager to see their oppressors given a taste of their own medicine. But as far as overlords went, the Tomodanese had been more of a lateral move than an upgrade.
She sighed, as if choosing the manner of her death were little more than an annoying household chore. “Sword,” she said. “Any chance he can warm it up before he swings it? My neck’s cold.”
The warden rolled her eyes, then waddled over to the gibbet to let the executioner know. Lee prepared to follow her up the stairs, but the magistrate held up a hand. “A moment,” he said in the bouncy tones typical of Shang’s public servants.
“You mind, Magistrate?” Lee said. No point in observing pleasantries now. “I’m kind of in the middle of something.”
“I just wanted to remind you,” said Magistrate How, “that everyone has their betters, and this is what happens when you test them. There’s a natural order to things, and Heaven forbids that it be upset.”
Lee shrugged. “I’ll lodge a complaint when I get there. Get right to the heart of the matter.”
Magistrate How, born pale enough, went even paler.
“What?” said Lee. “Can’t stomach a friendly chat in the rain?”
All the color had drained from the magistrate’s face. Lee could practically see the veins and capillaries in his cheeks. “How dare you!” he shrieked, then slapped her across the face. He didn’t have a lot of strength in him, but he had a lot of rings on his fingers, and they stung fiercely when they connected with her cheekbones.
The warden came running. “Magistrate How!” she said. “What—?”
“Don’t mind him,” Lee said. “The man’s just venting his spleen. I’ll have me that sword now.”
Magistrate How scoffed. “As if I’d ever allow you a clean death,” he said, his imperious tones back in full force. “Warden, executioner, you shall hang her!”
The warden shook her head. “Apologies, Magistrate,” she said. “The law’s clear: We must honor her choice of the sword.”
“I am the law,” the magistrate said, rounding on her. “I have been appointed by His Most August Personage the Crane Emperor himself. If I say I want her hanged, I will have her hanged.” Seeing him carry on, it surprised Lee how much the right kind of sneer could unmake even the handsomest face.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I was sold on this book as pokemon-meets-the last airbender, and it is, plus so much heart. I loved the characters, and a world that isn't just good guys vs bad guys, but people all doing what they feel they must, and finding a way forward.
Steel Crow Saga is a steampunk, fantasy, action-packed book that combines magic, politics, and a little romance. It took me a bit to get into it, but once I did, I was hooked into this book! The characters were one of my favorite parts of Steel Crow Saga. Each one had their own unique history and personality. It was really fun to have chapters written from a few different perspectives so that I could really dig into each character. In the beginning, the multiple different perspectives did make it a little hard to keep track of the story. But once I got to know each character, I ended up enjoying that a lot. Some of the character arcs didn't quite feel finished to me at the end, but overall, Krueger did a great job with their development. I really enjoyed the world Krueger created as well. It was a fresh, unique world, but didn't feel so foreign that I couldn't conceptualize it. I felt like I could step right into this world and join the characters. Again, I feel like there were parts of the world I wanted to know more about, but I didn't feel there were too many questions left unanswered. This is a really interesting and fun book. I could have used a few more chapters to really close out the plot, characters, and world, but I still had such a great time reading this! If you like steampunk fantasies and strong characters, I'd recommend giving Steel Crow Saga a read!
I stumbled while reading this one… I picked it up and put it down several times over the last few months. Why, and what kept me reading? The main reason is that I’m intimidated by page counts, especially when I get stalled in the first 100 pages… I got to about page 150 and the world hadn’t been fleshed out enough for me. I started to play the page-count head game. If this book slows down 1/4 of the way in, what’s the rest going to be like? I usually can hang on if I’m on the downhill side of 50%… I really need to feel grounded in the books that I read and the overall conflicts were not explained until Chapter 9. And it didn’t help that I’d just gone back-to back with two huge fantasy novels. While the 4 countries themselves weren’t defined to my liking, the characters were excellent. This is what kept me reading. They are very different from each other in allegiance and personality… Tala, Jimuro, Lee, and Xiulian: soldier, prince, thief, detective (of sorts)… all connected to different levels of power within political makeup of the world. This allowed me to see the conflict arise from several points of view. Shadepacting: I was never into Pokemon, but all descriptions of this book relate that the magic system is similar. The characters possess a shade or animal spirit that has been attached to their soul or being. This can help them fight or do a host of other actions to help them out in their quests. I liked it and felt that it was a perfect way of developing the character’s personalities even more than normal characterization. Not only do the characters cut across country and socio-economic background, they represent many different sexualities that are completely normalized. This adds a good layer to the already deep appreciation that I have for this character building. Moral compasses spinning like tops, and a bit of romance thrown in… it’s an exciting challenge to the reader to figure which way Krueger will go next. Overall, this was a book that I may have picked up at the wrong time… but there were things that kept me reading even if my mood wasn’t exactly with it. 3.5 out of 5 stars
Contrary to a couple of reviews I've seen, this is, in fact, a standalone! What Paul is able to do in a single, standalone fantasy novel is nothing short of masterful. I immediately became attached to the characters, and the worldbuilding ensnared me without being too info-dumpy. If you're a big fan of Pokemon, Avatar the Last Airbender, Fullmetal Alchemist, or anime tropes in general, you will hooked. The diversity is stellar - there are so many different Asian identities represented through the 4 different countries in SCS, and there are also characters who stray away from your standard cis-het fantasy drivel. I'm not entirely certain my love for this book could ever be succinctly contained in a thoughtful sounding review, so let me just say this - give this book a chance. It's one of the handful of books that has made me cry this year, and I am truly thankful that it exists.
Steel Crow Saga is the first novel in a series of the same name by Paul Krueger, and it’s as intense as it is brilliant. If you’re looking for a new fantasy series to get into, consider giving this one a try. It’s full of character driven plots, a magical world, and so much more. In a world torn apart by battle, four characters must come together to find a way to forge a new path. By doing so, they hope to prevent the circle of pain and bloodshed from continuing. But the journey will be anything but easy. Steel Crow Saga takes four characters, all of whom a very different from one another, and by rights all should hate the others, and forces them to do the unbelievable. This novel is an amazing fantasy novel, but it’s the characters who make this tale sing. Tala is a soldier through and through. She lives for the battles, and will do whatever it takes to take vengeance for her lost family. She and her animal companion Beaky have a dark secret, one that colors every aspect of her life. And her life is forever changed when she is forced to guard a prince that is not her own. Jimuro is the prince of Steel – and he’s bound to step up and lead his people. Unfortunately, he’s currently a prisoner in another nation. In other to bring the peace though, he’s allowed free and sent off with a military escort. Only, the whole trip doesn’t go as planned. On the bright side, the change in course has given him plenty of time to learn the truth about the world around him. Lee is a thief, plain and simple. She’s smart as a whip, and even more determined to survive. She’s one of the last of her kind – a people constantly stepped on by those who consider themselves better. But she won’t let their outlook on her life change her plans for the future. Xiulan is a woman with many identities. Her preferred one is a detective, which is how she ends up with a master class thief. She hopes that Lee will help her find the person she is looking for, and start a change for the better. I’ve been hearing nothing but positive things about Steel Crow Saga, and now, having read it, I completely understand why. It was emotional and dramatic, and had such a brilliant display of worldbuilding within. There was a lot to love about this book, simply put. The characters, the world, the magical systems, the politics. It was all well thought out and brilliant in its intensity. I did my best to stretch out reading this book as much as possible. But I’m still left anxious to get my hands on the next novel in the series. I think what I loved the most about Steel Crow Saga was the variety of characters. Tala, Jimuro, Lee, and Xiulan were all so different from one another. And yet, they all had a stake in this tale. It was fascinating to see them all work together, and better yet; the variety will allow for most readers to pick a favorite character or two to really look forward to reading about. I’m fascinated by the magical system within this world. We got a good look at shades (the animal companions), and a bit of a look at the steel magic. But I still have so many questions – and I’m sure that the future novels will answer them. I just have to be patient. I was surprised by how much emotion Steel Crow Saga was able to force out of me. It was excellently done. The characters were compelling, the plot was thrilling, and the world filled with lush details. And each character’s backstory was refined and honed to force readers to sympathize with their perspectives. I’m ac
This book was quite long and didn't feel like everything that was in it was necessary for the development of the characters or plot. I did enjoy some things about this book, while there were other parts that I didn't care much for. There are four different point of views that are included: Lee, Tala, Jimuro, Xiulan. Each has their own chapters and we also get a prologue from an entirely different character. At first I was confused by the prologue and a chapter for one of the characters because there wasn't any mention of a timeline. Besides that part, it was easy to understand how the characters fit together. There were a couple fascinating concepts that were included such as the "shades" and metalpacting. Although the concept of a "shade" was similar to other things that have been done like pokemon, it was still cool to see this. The concept of metalpacting is to bind your soul to metal, such as cars and weapons. I don't think I have read anything that included something like this so it was refreshing to see. When it came to the characters, they were diverse in backgrounds/representation. They were interesting but some of the scenes between them felt unneeded. I never felt a connection towards any of them which is something that I need especially for such a long book. Overall, there were unique concepts used and I feel like many will enjoy this book but unfortunately it just wasn't a book for me. eARC provided by publisher through NetGalley.
Their destinies were meant to collide as enemies become allies in an attempt to save an already battered and bruised world from the hands of a monster. Paul Krueger’s STEEL CROW SAGA has everything it needs to be a hard-hitting fantasy saga, but for me, it just missed the mark. The characters are predictable, they mimic the current trend in writing and while breathtakingly beautiful descriptions painted the backgrounds, it was too much of a good thing and seriously slowed this book down for me. Sometimes less is more! This author has some incredible talent, but this time out, I didn’t fall into the story and live side by side with the characters, nor did I form an attachment to their world. I received a complimentary ARC edition from Del Rey! This is my honest and voluntary review.
Steel Crow Saga bounces between perspectives of four people as they deal with the aftermath of a revolution. Tala was a Sergeant in the revolution and is now tasked with returning the captive Iron Prince Jimuro to his home in Tomoda. Xiulan is determined to kidnap the prince and present him to her father, the emperor of Shang, to prove her worthiness to inherit the throne. She enlists the help of Lee, a Jeongsonese girl who has been stealing to make ends meet since she was a child. All four learn about themselves and each other as their stories ravel together into one narrative. The magic system Krueger created for this world is unique. All of the magics are derived from the soul. The people of Shang and Sanbuna are able to bind their souls with the soul of an animal, giving them a partner that is stronger than the original animal. The Tomodanese are able to bind their soul with metal, allowing them to sharpen swords, heat metal, and run cars with a thought. The people of Dahal are able to wield the energy in their souls to create bolts to use as weapons and healing energy as well. Krueger expertly shows the differences in these cultures and how they all interact in the aftermath of a war. His characters undergo change throughout the book, they learn and grow and become better. The story had me on the edge of my seat many many times, biting my nails and wondering how they would make it out of their dire situation. This was a very good read and though it is over 500 pages long it is well worth the read. I loved every moment of it.
This book was received as an ARC in exchange for an honest review. Opinions and thoughts expressed in this review are completely my own. I could not put this book down. I got a lot of Red Queen, Last Airbender and some Pokémon vibes to the story but most of all, I love story lines where two unlikely heroes become all lies and rely on one another and their intentions completely change off course like Princess Xiulan and Lee and then it's all chaos from there you root for so many and get caught up in the action that you can't help but finish the book and feel accomplished. We will consider adding this title to our YFiction collection at our library. That is why we give this book 5 stars.
Steel Crow Saga had really intriguing worldbuilding rooted in our world’s history and a thrilling plot with relatable characters. I definitely recommend it for fans of Fonda Lee’s Green Bone Saga and R.F. Kuang’s The Poppy War. There are clear parallels between the countries of this world and Japan, China, Korea, India, and the Philippines in ours. I thought it was fascinating how Krueger drew on past history and combined it with magic in an all new world. It’s also fairly modern, in that there are electronics. In fact, one of the magic systems is based on metal. The magic system was very interesting; each country has their own specialty. There’s shadepacting (bonding with an animal for life), metalpacting (pouring your will into metal), and something else I forgot the name of but was basically pacting with the human body. I also liked seeing how each country views others’ magic, specifically shadepacting, which some view as slavery. I really loved all of our main characters. There’s Jimuro, the Iron Prince who has to face the consequences of the horrifics done by his countrymen; Tala, the sergeant tasked with delivering Jimuro safely; Xiulan, the princess who’s trying to prove she’s more than her title; and Lee, the thief who’s roped into finding Jimuro by Xiulan. They all have such amazing character arcs, and it was so exciting to see all of their story lines converge. Tala’s relationship with her brother was also a complex, almost heartbreaking one to read. It was nice to read about their struggles and the love that overcame all of them. Romance-wise, there’s a f/f one with Xiulan and Lee. Jimuro and Tala may or may not have an enemies-to-lovers thing going on…In both cases, the romance was very evenly balanced with the plot. Steel Crow Saga was a fast-paced, thrilling read. I loved the worldbuilding and magic systems, and the characters were incredibly developed. Pick this one up, fantasy fan or not!
This book was fantastic. I can't rave about it highly enough. I was lucky enough to pick up a copy at Denver Pop Culture Con this year and get approved for a NetGalley, and I absolutely loved it! The book is filled with moments that get you excited to continue on. I didn't think I'd be so impressed with a giant rat, or a box of mushrooms, but believe me when I tell you this book had me laughing, crying, and getting really worried about my favorite characters as the pages turned. I'm a big fan of Manga and Anime, and I think that really put this book over the top for me because I could (and would LOVE) to see it as an anime in the future. It's got it all, the tough military type, the reluctant ruler, the girl from the wrong side of the tracks, and the awkward but fantastic wannabe detective. I just couldn't stop reading it, and have already recommended it to my friends, book club, and random strangers. It's worth picking up a copy! You won't regret it! I loved it, and my boyfriend loved it, it appeals to all readers and it's got amazing representation of cultures and sexuality. It's fantastic and just want we need right now! Go read it!
I like this book . . . I wanted to LOVE it, but it was slow moving for me with excessively overwritten scenes making it unnecessarily long. I felt myself skipping pages (which is paramount to sacrilegious to me) because I just wanted something to happen. While the characters were well thought-out and complex and the storyline was intriguing enough to get me reading, its overly padded pages had me I struggling to continue to the end. I read a lot of books, short and long in length, so I have no problem with length. But I get frustrated when words aren't used to convey their point, whether it be descriptive for a scene or narrative for a character. This book suffers from superfluous wordage and scenes. **I received a free copy of this book via NetGalley and am voluntarily leaving a review.**
I have noticed a couple of themes in the books that I have been reading lately. The first one is that I saw is the plenty of strong female characters. The second is that Japanese/Chinese based fantasy is becoming more popular. Both caught my attention when I read the blurb for Steel Crow Saga. I am happy to say that I loved Steel Crow Saga!! It was a fantastic read. Steel Crow Saga has four separate plotlines. Usually, that would be an issue for me. I lose focus on many plotlines. But, in this book, it wasn’t an issue. The author was able to keep all four plotlines separated. I had no problem keeping them straight. I also loved that while the plotlines did get merged towards the end of the book, they were still separate. The characters in Steel Crow Saga were well written and well fleshed out. That made the book so much more enjoyable for me to read. I did have my favorite characters in the book. I loved Lee and Xiulan, separately and together. I also did like Tala and Jimuro, but Lee and Xiulan captured my heart. The fantasy angle of the book was amazing!! I loved how shadepacting worked. To have an animal bond that close to you must be amazing. But I also could see why it was done with only animals and not humans. I thought having the bad guy having hundreds of shades was great. I also liked that the characters could steal the shades from other people. I liked it. Another part of the book that I loved was the LGBT representation in the book. Xiulan and Lee had feelings for each other. Jimuro’s oldest friend was a transgender man. Mang, Tala’s brother, was gay. Lee, and I believe Jimuro, were bisexual. I loved it!! I have read reviews where this book was compared to The Last Airbender and Pokemon. I did get the Pokemon vibe while reading it but I didn’t get The Last Airbender vibe. Shrugs. I also liked that each race was a different Asian country. China, Japan, Korea, the Philippines, and India were represented. Doing that added more depth to the book. There also could be more countries that I didn’t pick up on. There was a lot of violence and death in Steel Crow Saga. It didn’t bother me (violence in books usually don’t). But some people are bothered by violence. Unfortunately, this book couldn’t be told without the violence. Tala and Mang’s relationship was one of the saddest ones that I have read to date. My heart broke several times whenever their relationship came up. The author also explains how he became a shade. Again, talk about my poor heartbreaking. I was in tears. What Mang asked Tala to do was awful, and it shaped her for the rest of her life. The end of Steel Crow Saga was interesting. It was interesting because while the main storylines ended, the author left room for another book. I am curious to see what will happen with Tala and Jimuro, especially after what was revealed. I am also interested to see where Lee and Xiulan’s relationship will go. Also, I want to know what will happen with the different countries now that the war is over. I can’t wait for book 2 to come out!!