Steal the Sky
The Scorched Continent, Book #1
By Megan E. O’Keefe
You are just beyond the scorch, a merciless realm of desert and heat. Only islands remain and airships, powered by the elusive selium transverse the crude remnants of a civilization on the brink of collapse. Steampunk in genre and tastefully written, Steal the Sky brings O’Keefe’s Scorched Continent series home with a punch. Unfortunately it’s a light punch, and despite its length, makes for a very light – almost transparent, read. This transparency, tends to lead the reader on their own flights of fancy which is good, however, it doesn’t keep your overall focus on the novel. Regardless, the novel stands on its own, and lovers of Steampunk (such as myself) will find something to engage themselves in.
Steel the Sky is plot driven, primarily, and foremost. Almost everything moves with clockwork-like precision, and although a few (alright, many) twists are thrown in, the reader is always assured of the end. Starting out as a simple, police abduction, the book spins into a murder mystery, and the intrigue builds. Not skimping a single detail, Steel the Sky is tight in its plot, steering events and interpersonal exchange towards its end. Even the language used is succinct and describes just enough to get the ball rolling and to the end of the lane in order to knock down the pins.
The setting is the second most concentrated effort. As with other shared world novels, Steel the Sky reverberates with the trappings of an industrial wasteland, with dotted “islands” of productivity, in a fairly convincing manner (given the suspension of belief). Steampunk to the core, right down to the airships that travel to and from the islands in their lighter than air selium filled sacks, O’Keefe does a beautiful job in painting a surrealistic, but vaguely familiar world. My only complaint was that enough of the backdrop wasn’t covered, leaving me wanting for more. Definitely not the best way to sell a series but at least there is room for improvement.
I’m not, by any means, disqualifying the writing style altogether. The terseness of the plot driven fiction adds momentum and keeps the reader focused; but only to a point. I found myself almost distracted from the novel, as the writing described different interplays. A fair amount of the background I would have preferred to have been expanded upon, was not, but I’m not sure if it is because of the fact this is a shared universe novel or because O’Keefe just didn’t feel like explaining it. It is this transparency in the writing style, focusing on plot, theme and setting, that didn’t bode well with me.
The characters in the novel are desperately screaming to become three-dimensional. While the essence of the characters is there, and each character, from the police watch, to smarmy rogues, to shape-changing “doppels” (short for doppelgangers), has their own voice, they seem contrived and their interactions and thoughts serve simply to drive the plot forward. They just barely pass the muster, although some levity and humor is interjected through them. This aspect of Steel the Sky, at least, is endearing, and one of the few ways the reader can “interact” with the characters. In hindsight, I wish the characters would have been more fully developed and grew more from their encounters.
Overall, if you are a Steampunk aficionado, Steel the Sky is right up your alley, as it is for “alternate earthers.” The plot will keep you hanging until the final die is cast, and there is enough background material to whet anyone’s fancy. The sacrifice of all else to serve this purpose, however, might leave some readers, who are more character oriented, a little dry. Steel the Sky is a fine novel but by no means exemplary of the genre. O’Keefe does a phenomenal world builder but lacks certain clarity for characterization. Regardless, it’s at least a quick, no-nonsense, easy read.