Monday, April 11, 2011

A High Seas Adventure

Who can resist a story full of cheeky pirates and sword flailing adventure? I was a little hesitant about this story at first, because I generally don't like time travel stories, but Carrie Vaughn rocks this fun pirate story. Steel is a great story with a strong female lead who takes things as they come, even when she is tossed onto a pirate ship centuries before her time.

Jill is a champion fencer, but when she loses the most important match of her career, her world changes in more ways than one. After the loss, her parents decide to take a trip to the Caribbean to lift her spirits and get her out of her room. While on vacation, though, she refuses to pull out of her funk. When she finds the rusted, corroded tip of a rapier on the beach, she feels inexplicably drawn to the sword fragment. Her pull to the sword makes her take it with her on a boat ride with her parents. When she accidentally falls overboard, she and the sword are transported back in time to a pirate ship where the sword tip is more than just a cool artifact- it is the object of a deadly feud between the Diana's Captain Marjory Cooper and her nemesis, Captain Blane.

Aboard the Diana, Jill gets a quick lesson in pirate life. She is forced to swear an oath to the ship or be put in the gallows. When she chooses to sign the oath, she becomes part of the crew- most of which involves endless scrubbing of the deck and seriously hard work. At first she is terrified of the crew and their fearless female captain, but quickly she begins to see they are more of a family. At one point, they even take over a slave ship and deliver the slaves to safety. Jill grew up thinking all pirates were thieves and self-serving, but she quickly finds out there is more to the story. Despite her desire to get back home in any way possible, Jill begins to care for her crew and captain.

But the issue of the broken rapier still exists. Captain Cooper tells Jill it is the piece of Captain Blane's sword she threw in the ocean. Blane used the evil and mystical sword to try and form a pirate empire in the Atlantic- one that would ensure terror and evil controlled the sea and no one would escape. When she defeated Blane, she destroyed the sword, but now that the piece has come back, Blane is chasing the Diana in a murderous effort to reclaim it. Jill must help the crew of the Diana defeat Blane, but ultimately, Jill must find her way home. Will Blane's defeat help her get home or is she stuck on this pirate ship forever?

I love when historical fiction brings strong messages with an exciting story, and that is exactly what Vaughn did with Steel. She showed a world where women should have been second-class citizens, but instead they were captains of mighty ships and revered like any other fair and just captain. On the ship itself, Jill became an equal to the other men (although it required a little time and proof that she was worthy of their respect). This is a strong book with strong characters who I would be proud to share with my students, male and female alike. In fact, although the main character is a girl, this is a great book for both boys and girls. Nothing about it is "girlie" and who doesn't love a girl who fences anyway?!

The language is moderate and there are no inappropriate circumstances. The violence is limited and not overt or gruesome. This is a great book for any high skilled 6-7th grader through a high school student. It has great characters and plenty of action to keep anyone hooked. While it would certainly appeal to a kid who enjoys pirate stories (Pirates of the Caribbean wholeheartedly included) it also would appeal to someone who knows nothing of pirate lore. Vaughn knocked it out of the park with this fun adventure, and I can't wait to see what she does next!

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