From School Library Journal
“Racial tensions and class strife provide the underlying conflict in this tense mystery, first in the Alternate Detective series, set in an industrialized fantasy city reminiscent of Victorian-era South Africa. Sixteen-year-old Ang Sutonga works as a “steeplejack,” cleaning and maintaining Bar-Selehm’s many towers and spires. When her new apprentice is murdered, no one seems to care. Then a secret government organization hires Ang to find the killer, believing the death is linked to more important matters, such as the theft of the city’s fabled Beacon—an impossibly valuable piece of luxorite, the glowing mineral that forms the backbone of the city’s economy. As Ang delves into the mystery, she discovers treachery, danger, and evidence of a far-reaching conspiracy that could throw the region into chaos. Hartley’s (the Darwen Arkwright series) story is a thought-provoking blend of action and intrigue, with a competent and ethical heroine in Ang and a fully imagined setting whose atmosphere and cultural cues also play important roles. The result is an unforgettable page-turner built on surprises and full of potential.” Ages 13–up. Agent: Stacey Glick, Dystel & Goderich Literary Management. (June) – Publishers Weekly, starred review
“Seventeen-year-old Anglet Sutonga is the only female steeplejack on the Seventh Street Gang; she’s also the best. When a routine steeple repair job results in the death of a new gang member Anglet realizes he was murdered. At about the same time the Bar Selehm city beacon—a large, luminescent luxorite stone—is stolen from its high perch above the market. Anglet is convinced the murder and theft are connected and she is secretly hired by a rich politician to find evidence—if she can do so before civil war erupts in the city. Skillful writing, masterful pacing, and a capable and quite likable female detective are just a few of the things to love about this fantasy-adventure, set in what seems to be a Victorian-era South Africa. The author has a flair for world-building, not settling for vivid descriptions of sights and smells, but also utilizing social customs to ground Anglet’s story. In addition to the detective angle, Hartley thoughtfully explores issues such as race relations, both inter- and intra-racial, as Anglet deals with the censure of her own community, and class issues, as she attempts to work outside the political system to solve the murder. This one won’t stay on the shelf for long.” — Booklist, starred review (May 1st), Cindy Welch
“This latest novel from Hartley (Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, 2014, etc.), his debut for teens, is social commentary masquerading as crime fiction masquerading as fantasy. The book opens with a murder and a mystery: the invaluable luxorite stone that lights the Beacon at the heart of Bar-Selehm is stolen, and Berrit, a young Lani boy, is found dead at the bottom of a spire. Hartley's fictional world is dense and rich. Though heavy with exposition in the beginning, the plot deftly explores the economic and political entanglements of the native black Mahweni, the white settlers from Feldesland, and the brown Lani people the Feldish brought as servants. Determined to get justice for her would-be apprentice, Lani steeplejack and narrator Anglet Sutonga discovers that Berrit's death is but a small part in a larger conspiracy to gain wealth and power at any cost. The diverse cast of characters reflects the varying classes and races that intersect and clash in the post-colonial city. The close first-person perspective keeps readers' hearts pounding as Anglet draws ever closer to the truth. The tension stays taut throughout the book, heightened with each precipice Anglet climbs: if she falls, the city goes to war. Smart political intrigue wrapped in all the twists and turns of a good detective story makes for a rip-roaring series opener.” — Kirkus Reviews, starred review
“The best imaginary worlds give readers the opportunity not only to enter a different realm but also to consider how that imaginary world reflects or distorts our actual one. Few novels have tackled this as skillfully as Steeplejack, the young-adult debut by bestselling author A.J. Hartley.
Set in a world that looks very much like an alternative historical version of South Africa, Steeplejack tackles head-on the kinds of bigotry, class and race warfare and identity politics that are all too relevant in the real world. This social commentary is placed in the context of a thrilling mystery plot, investigated by a truly unforgettable heroine.
Anglet Sutonga is a steeplejack, one of the best climbers the city of Bar-Selehm has ever seen. But when the boy picked to be her next apprentice dies in a fall, Ang is convinced not only that his death was no accident, but also that he is somehow connected to the sudden disappearance of the Beacon, Bar-Selehm’s greatest treasure, a hunk of priceless luxorite. Soon Ang, like the city itself, is caught between different factions and racial groups, each blaming the other for the city’s mounting problems, each convinced the other has something to hide. Ang must discover new reserves of strength, especially when she faces a very personal betrayal.
Steeplejack is quietly thoughtful and breathlessly exciting, and with two more series installments to follow, Ang’s personal and professional journey is far from over. “ — BookPage Teen Top Pick
“With its unique South African-inspired setting, richly-drawn and diverse cast of characters, and unstoppable plot, readers of any age won't be able to put Steeplejack down!” — Carrie Ryan, New York Times bestselling author
“With Steeplejack, A.J. Hartley introduces a dynamic, complex and likeable new heroine who combines wits, skill and courage to face deadly challenges in an exotic world. Teens and adults will love this book and want more, more, more!” —Jonathan Maberry, New York Times bestselling author of Rot & Ruin and The Orphan Army
“A.J. Hartley has created an exquisite, explosive, nail-biting, tear-rousing masterpiece, in a world so realistic it might be right around the corner.” —Faith Hunter, New York Times bestselling author
“What a world Hartley has created! Enough twists and surprises to keep the pages turning long into the night.” —R.L. Stine
“A unique epic adventure set in a richly imagined world; lush, exotic and masterfully written. It's Sherlock Holmes, Oliver Twist, and Indiana Jones rolled into one.” —Lissa Price, internationally bestselling author of Starters and Endersv
“Smart and socially-aware, this fabulous debut adds to the growing library of multicultural fantasy and is a loudly resounding success.” —Nisi Shawl, Tiptree Award-winning author and co-author of Writing the Other: A Practical Approach
“With Steeplejack, A.J. Hartley creates a world as complex as its heroine, and a mystery that spans class, race and geography. You can feel the grit and glory of Bar-Selehm, a many-spired city teetering on the edge of the savannah, and the verge of war. The perfect setting for a street-smart young woman who is caught between three cultures, yet refuses to be trapped by them.” —Sherri L. Smith, award-winning author of Flygirls and Orleans
“Hartley has created a world so gritty and real I could taste the soot.” —Maurice Broaddus, author of the Knights of Breton Court trilogy
“Steeplejack combines a lively and intelligent plot with an intriguing and well-drawn world, and caps all this goodness with a determined and indefatigable heroine.” —Kate Elliott, author of Court of Fives
“A rich, atmospheric tale of adventure, morality and consequence, Steeplejack will linger with you long after you read the last page.” —Kady Cross, author of the Steampunk Chronicles and Sisters of Blood and Spirit series
“Steeplejack has everything a reader could want: Elegant prose, a cracking good mystery, lots of action, and characters to fall in love with and root for. I read it cover to cover in no time at all. In fact, I did so twice! And I was on the edge of my seat both times.” —D.B. Jackson, author of the Thieftaker series
“I was completely hooked from page one. Ang is a hero to cheer for heart and soul. A thrilling, clever, meaningful read.” —Leanna Renee Hieber, award-winning author of Strangely Beautiful and The Eterna Files
“Steeplejack is an exquisitely built mystery set in a lush, vibrant world. I was loath to leave Ang and Bar-Selehm behind at the end of it. Definitely a book to be revisited again and again.” —Kat Zhang, author of What’s Left of Me