Steel Crow Saga (Book)
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.
Magic, epic action, and impressive cultural world-building collide in the newest fantasy novel from Paul Krueger. Check out our full review to see what we thought!
Steel Crow Saga is a story with quite a few layers to sort through. On the surface, it’s a sprawling epic fantasy complete with an “evil Empire,” unique magic system, seemingly all-powerful villain, and quite a bit of action. Underneath, however, is a character driven story about loss, love, and coming to terms with your own personal demons/faults. The combination makes for a compelling novel that’s incredibly tough to put down.
The world of Steel Crow Saga is comprised of a few major countries/cultures. At one point the imperialistic Tomoda decided they should be in charge of it all and invaded the lands to impose strict order and new laws...Obviously this didn’t sit well and a coalition of nations banded together to fight back. This isn’t a story of liberation, however.
Instead, Steel Crow Saga, starts after the war has already been won and the Tomodanese have been pushed back to their country of origin. The other nations (most notably Sanbuna and Shang) are getting back into the swing of ruling themselves once more and working out what the next steps will be.
It’s an approach that took me by surprise and one of the things I loved about it. In this way, you get elements of the classic fantasy story line, without falling into the cliches. Rather, we get a look at the story that comes AFTER the war has been won, which we so rarely get to see.
As the world begins to sort itself out in a post-war era the Tomoda Prince, Jimuro, who had been captured early on in the uprising must be returned to his home country. As the last surviving member of the nation’s monarchy, his coronation must happen to ensure peace talks can be achieved. Considering the oppressive nature of Tomoda’s regime over the years, there are, understandably, plenty of people in the various governments who don’t wish to see Jimuro take the throne.
This onerous task forms the heart of Steel Crow Saga’s story as we follow four distinct characters with motives of their own. Tala, a Sanbunan freedom fighter who has more reason to hate Tomoda (and the Prince) than most, is tasked with ensuring his survival and delivery to his home. Meanwhile, Xiulan, a princess and detective, enlists the unlikely aid of a master thief, Lee, to help her track down the Prince on his journey and capture him for her own ends.
Both pairs face a number of roadblocks, from terrorist factions, political rivals, family drama, and one seriously crazy villain whose abilities have the potential to threaten the delicate new world order. There’s a lot that goes into this story, with a dash of political intrigue/rivalries, bigger themes on war and love, along with some genuine surprises to boot. I don’t want to spoil anything, so I won’t talk much further on the story itself.
Impressive World Building and Magical Action
All this and I haven’t even mentioned the magical elements that are so essential to the story/characters! The three main civilizations within this world have each developed their own form of magic, all of which is based off one’s soul. Some harness the energy and are able to expel it outwards (think Dragon Ball Z style blasts, but not as destructive). Then you have the Steelpacting, used by the Tomodanese, and Shadepacting. Shadepacting is kind of like Pokemon, where an animal and human form a bond (pact) and thus the creature can be called upon to battle.
Each of these magical abilities have strongly formed the cultures around the countries that use them. This ties into how author, Paul Krueger, is able to artfully craft the world building of the novel directly into the action of the story. Rather than hit you up with any lengthy exposition dumps on the layout of the world and cultural divisions (even though that’s a HUGE part of the plot), the intricacies of this world are sussed out through character dialog and interactions.
The novel dives right into the heart of the story without giving you a chance to get your bearings. Instead of being confusing, however, the action hooks you almost instantly. Before you know it, you’ve learned much about the power dynamics between the various characters and factions, with a base understanding of their magic system...All within a handful of chapters.
From there, it continues to dive deeper, filling you in on the more esoteric aspects of their culture, leaving you with a strong sense of understanding the intricate details that make this world, and its various people, unique. Pretty much ALL of it is accomplished through actions and dialog.
The best example I can give (without really giving anything away) is how the author discusses something as simple as how characters get dressed. From the styles, to the ritualistic way certain characters dress and style their hair, it gives insight into their cultures and how they choose to live.
It’s impressively handled, and done in a way that keeps the novel moving at a fast pace. I didn’t even realize how much I was learning about the world building most of the time. It’s done so deftly and naturally through the story that it’s seamless. Even better, the Asian influences are readily apparent in the fictional cultures presented. In some ways it feels like I learned about the real life cultures as well, all while reading an engaging story.
Action-Packed with Heart
Steel Crow Saga is a ridiculously fast-paced story. Within just the first few pages, the novel dives deep into the action (which is impressively choreographed on the page) and rarely lets up. The story moves along at a breakneck pace, leaving you flipping pages as fast as you can until the final act comes around. While parts of the ending/wrap-up seemed to drag on a smidgen too long, considering everything that came before, it’s easy to overlook.
Despite the blistering pace, and jumping from one action sequence to the next, the novel makes time for smaller, more intimate character moments. It’s not all action, there’s plenty of substance to be had as well. The end result are characters you find yourself coming to care about and connect with on an emotional level. This ramps the tension up to another level for the action in the final act of the story and ultimately makes for a story that’s hard to forget.
While the big action takes center stage, and makes for a FUN novel, Steel Crow Saga truly shines in the smaller moments. Because of this, I feel like there’s a lot of re-read value built into the book. Even more so because it’s a completely self-contained story. While there are certainly places for a sequel to go, it’s built as a standalone adventure, but it’s certainly one worth revisiting. Between all that and some incredible diversity spread throughout, there’s a lot to love and a lot to come back to.