Book Review: Steel by Carrie Vaughn

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review: Steel by Carrie VaughnSteel by Carrie Vaughn
Published by Harper Collins on March 15th 2011
Genres: Young Adult, Action & Adventure, Pirates, Fantasy & Magic, Girls & Women
Pages: 304
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
Buy on Amazon

It was a slender length of rusted steel, tapered to a point at one end and jagged at the other, as if it had broken. A thousand people would step over it and think it trash, but not her.
This was the tip of a rapier.
Sixteen-year-old Jill has fought in dozens of fencing tournaments, but she has never held a sharpened blade. When she finds a corroded sword piece on a Caribbean beach, she is instantly intrigued and pockets it as her own personal treasure.
The broken tip holds secrets, though, and it transports Jill through time to the deck of a pirate ship. Stranded in the past and surrounded by strangers, she is forced to sign on as crew. But a pirate's life is bloody and brief, and as Jill learns about the dark magic that brought her there, she forms a desperate scheme to get home—one that risks everything in a duel to the death with a villainous pirate captain.
Time travel, swordplay, and romance combine in an original high-seas adventure from New York Times bestseller Carrie Vaughn.

I’m not gonna lie, I find swords to be pretty badass weapons. Fencing is a beautiful sport, evoking that scene in The Princess Bride when Wesley and Inigo Montoya are fighting. In Steel by Carrie Vaughn, swords and fencing take center stage.

Time travel, sword play, and pirates pepper the plot of Steel, however, I’m not exactly sure the sum is greater than its parts. You see, main character Jill is kind of a brat, which is okay because many teenagers are brats. Jill is in the Bahamas for Olympic fencing try-outs.Her whole family goes and it turns into a vacation. Only Jill is all moody-teenager around her family, what with her changing body and hormones and all. A bit of time traveling happens, and Jill finds herself aboard pirate queen Marjory Cooper’s ship.

There is a lot of this:

Prepare to die!

Prepare To Die!

Which is awesome. However, unfortunately, the book was not all sword fights and action. You see there’s about 5% romance, which is not much to complain about, but to me the romance felt contrived. It seemed as though it had been inserted at the last-minute as part of an unspoken requirement that all Young Adult books must have romance. However, I never felt a spark between Jill and her ‘love interest’. It seemed like they were friend-zoned for the whole book. Her love interest taught her things, sure, but there was never any lustful glances, or an accidental brushing of hands. There was no longing. There wasn’t even that moment where friends turn into something more. And for me, that’s why the romance just didn’t feel real. I think that’s what dragged Steel down.

I think if Vaughn had made Steel simply a novel of transformation and swordplay, this novel would have been excellent, just have to cut the romance. Or if the romance needs to be in there, make it real. Make me, the reader, feel something for the budding relationship. I thought Jill’s transformation from majorly spoiled to thoughtful and caring was well-done, if a bit rushed. She goes from being the typical I am the center of the work teenager (not that there is anything wrong with that, I was the same exact way as a teen) to seeing that she does love her family and they have more purpose in life than just annoying her. It would have been nice to have deeper interaction with her family instead of the brief thought of them, or the short two chapters in the beginning where her family is on the page. Maybe even see some of Jill’s life before her fencing tournament in the Bahamas.

What I thought was intriguing was the look at the history of the Caribbean and piracy in particular. You see my whole education of the Caribbean consists of the first Pirates Of The Caribbean movie (awesome, but I’m not into the rest of the series). So, while Steel wasn’t exactly a crash course in the history of piracy, it added to my knowledge just a little bit, especially the author note at the end. Carrie Vaughn explains that while there may not have been pirate queens in the Caribbean, there were in Ireland, which I totally didn’t know. She also wrote about pirates raiding slave ships, and how usually pirates didn’t free slaves but sold them for profits, which again, I didn’t know. ALSO, we see Jill’s reactions to being back in time and actually knowing how history will play out. As a history nerd, I found myself enjoying that part.

In all, I’m conflicted on Steel by Carrie Vaughn. Straight up, my feelings are mixed. I connected with parts of it, and was turned off by other parts.

Disclosure: Received for review.

OTHER REVIEWS OF Steel by Carrie Vaughn:

Sophistikatied Reviews
The Book Pixie
The Book Smugglers
The Lost Entwife

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April is in her 30s and created Good Books And Good Wine. She works for a non-profit. April always has a book on hand. In her free time she can be found binge watching The Office with her husband and toddler, spending way too much time on Pinterest or exploring her neighborhood.
About April (Books&Wine)

April is in her 30s and created Good Books And Good Wine. She works for a non-profit. April always has a book on hand. In her free time she can be found binge watching The Office with her husband and toddler, spending way too much time on Pinterest or exploring her neighborhood.


  1. I totally agree about the romance aspect. It was lame, and it would have been better off left out of the book. I felt let down by that because the cover of the book specifically says it’s a tale about romance. And I was like “except… not so much”. I liked this book, but didn’t love it. Definite mixed feelings. I think if it hadn’t been marketed a certain way I wouldn’t have been as disappointed.

  2. Yep, agreed! No romance needed in STEEL. I liked the whole time-travel, sword-fighting of it all and the adult romance-turned-toxic. Overall, an interesting read. Thanks for the review!

  3. I definitely want to read this one! The sword fighting, pirates, time travel and history aspects sound great! Bummer about the romance addition though, I don’t know why authors/editors think it’s needed when most stories are perfectly enjoyable without it. I Steel think it sounds like a fun book! (Couldn’t resist the bad pun!)

  4. I own this but haven’t had a chance to read it yet. I love the whole swashbuckling pirates of the Caribbean idea and who doesn’t love that scene in Princess Bride, I mean, c’mon?!?

    But I agree if you are going to insert romance in, you have to feel as twisty-turny for the characters when they do have a longing glance or quickly look away when their eyes meet so as not to appear to be staring. It has to feel real. And readers have to feel it too.

    And if this is an action-y kind of book then you totally do not need to throw in romance just for the heck of it. A girl can go 5 minutes without a guy in life or in fiction.

    Loved this review 🙂

  5. Yeah, I know romance isn’t a requirement.. but I’m a complete softy and sometimes–amongst my swordfights and swashbuckling and seafaring–I happen to love a little touch of smooching. Only if it’s well done smooching. This doesn’t sound like the lahve was very genuine, and that sucks. Thanks April, for the honest review!