Steal the Sky
by Megan O'Keefe
The only thing stranger than making a deal with the Watch Captain of Aransa to steal the best ship in the realm is finding out you may have just made the deal with a doppelganger. Detan Honding wasn't planning an extended stay in Aransa. As a gifted selium sensitive, he tries his best to stay out of mining towns where selium is all too temptingly within reach. However, after waking up with a burlap sack over his face and wheedling his way out of trouble by playing the watch captain off against her greatest rival, he realizes he'll be lucky to get out with his skin intact. A doppelganger-- a person who is not only sensitive to selium but can cast illusions with it-- is on a murderous rampage, the Warden of Aransa is the doppel's latest victim, and Ex-Commodore Thratia Ganal, aka General Throatslitter, is ready to seize the opportunity to make a grab at controlling Aransa.
Steal the Sky Is a lot of fun. I've made no secret of my weakness for heist stories, and when that's combined with interesting worldbuilding, I'm sold. Like many other heist stories, the plot had a high dependence on refrigerator logic that couldn't withstand close examination, but it pulled me along regardless. While I'm not sure I exactly found the characters compelling, particularly the antihero of the piece, I did quite enjoy their adventures. The only exception was the doppelganger, whose petty scheme for revenge utterly failed to engage my sympathies.
Other than my tendency to misread it as "selenium" instead of "selium," I thoroughly enjoyed the story's worldbuilding. Selium is a substance mined from what sounds like volcanic soil. Its main selling point for most of society is that it's lighter than air and can therefore be used to power airships and the like, but in the hands of selium sensitives, it's far more interesting. I liked the idea of doppelgangers, especially since my tendency to try to guess where the doppelganger would pop up added extra fun to the story. (At several points, I was vastly irritated by what I saw as inconsistencies in a character's behavior; lo and behold, it was the doppelganger.) I think the major weakness in the worldbuilding is the selium mining bit, which, given that it's basically enslavement, is bizarrely and unrealistically egalitarian. All selium sensitives, no matter how high-born, are effectively permanently indentured, either in the dangerous mines or as pilots. Quality of life for miners is far from ideal, yet everyone, rich or poor, has the potential to have a loved one in the mines, or to end up there oneself. Given this, why are such problematic conditions allowed to continue? Typically such injustices survive because the people in power are isolated from the consequences. I'm a bit sceptical that this setup could ever come about--I suspect the rich and powerful would find a way to weasel out of it.
Overall, if you're looking for a fast read full of breezy dialogue, imaginative worldbuilding, and capers galore, Steal the Sky Is definitely worth a look.
~~ I received an advanced reader copy of this ebook through Netgalley from the publisher, Angry Robot, in exchange for my honest review. Thanks!~~