Book Review: The Sin in the Steel

Ryan Van Loan

Rating: 3 out of 5.

published: 21st July 2020
spoilers? no


A sparkling debut fantasy set in a diverse world, featuring dead gods, a pirate queen, shapeshifting mages, and a Sherlockian teenager determined to upend her society.

Brilliant street-rat
Her mind leaps from clues to conclusions in the blink of an eye.

Buc’s partner-in-crime.

No. Not in crime―in crime-solving.

They’ve been hired for their biggest job yet―one that will set them up for a life of ease.

If they survive.

Buc and Eld are the first private detectives in a world where pirates roam the seas, mages speak to each other across oceans, mechanical devices change the tide of battle, and earthly wealth is concentrated in the hands of a powerful few.

It’s been weeks since ships last returned to the magnificent city of Servenza with bounty from the Shattered Coast. Disaster threatens not just the city’s trading companies but the empire itself. When Buc and Eld are hired to investigate, Buc swiftly discovers that the trade routes have become the domain of a sharp-eyed pirate queen who sinks all who defy her.

Now all Buc and Eld have to do is sink the Widowmaker’s ship….

Unfortunately for Buc, the gods have other plans.

Unfortunately for the gods, so does Buc.

Let a man think you weak, let him think you vulnerable, and he’ll never see the blade until it’s planted in his ribs.

Galley provided by publisher

CWs: violence, gore

You know those books where you can see there is a lot to like, and you do, to an extent, like it, but at the same time it’s not quite for you? That was The Sin in the Steel for me.

The story follows Buc and Eld, a Sherlock and Watson-type pairing, who are somewhat coerced into solving the mystery of why a trading company’s ships are not returning to port. In doing so, they uncover a war between gods and mages, and zombie pirates (!!!).

So first up, what’s good about this book?

The worldbuilding. The world that Van Loan has created is so interesting, from the locations to the mythos and everything in between, and particularly how it all interacts. I feel like I say this about a lot of fantasy novels at the moment (possibly because it does feel like we’re going through a real glut of creative worldbuilding), but it was probably one of the most interesting I’ve read.

The mystery. Give me a mystery and I’ll love it. Give me a mystery combined with another genre (e.g. sci fi, fantasy, historical) and I will enjoy it even more. And the mystery-slash-adventure here was definitely a good one. It’s fast-paced and exciting, and there are zombie pirates so… A definite win.

The found family. I love a good found family, and Buc and Eld definitely provide that. And the combination of Buc who is prickly and argumentative with Eld who is, generally, kind-hearted and slow to anger (except when it involves someone threatening Buc). Beautiful.

The voice. Buc’s narrative voice was so distinctive, I loved that about it. There were a few other POVs in the book, but Buc’s voice stood out above all (not only because it was first person I mean). And it reminded me a whole lot of that scene in King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, where Arthur is describing (lying about) his day to the captain of the guard.

But a quick note also on why it didn’t work for me. Firstly, as much as I liked the relationship between Buc and Eld, they were 16 and 22 respectively and I couldn’t get past that (didn’t help I kept getting reminded of it either). Yeah, so it’s fantasy, it’s a different world and all, but that age gap was just a no from me. Secondly, while Buc’s voice was distinctive, it also came to grate on me just the slightest. I think it’s a book I needed to spend time on rather than trying to race through.

But overall, it was a solid debut, and an author I will be looking out for more from.

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