Steel by Carrie Vaughn: Book Review

STEEL by Carrie Vaughn Book Review
Publication Date: March 1st 2011 by HarperTeen
Rating: |

Book Summary: 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.

Book Review Overview:

  • Highlight of the book are definitely the fencing and sword-fighting scenes
  • Would have loved more on Captain Cooper and Edmund Blane; felt that Blane was a little flat
  • Time travel just happens and is never really explained

Jill stumbles upon a a broken rusted blade that washed upon the shores of the Bahamas. Intrigued by the blade, Jill pockets it and wonders where it came from. During a boat ride with her family, a wave pitches Jill into the ocean and she suddenly finds herself transported back into the early 18th century on a ship full of pirates. STEEL by Carrie Vaughn is a novel full of swordplay and pirates but fails to truly captivate the reader.

As a former high school fencer, I have to admit that I just loved the fencing and sword-fighting scenes in STEEL by Carrie Vaughn. For me, the sword scenes were the main highlight of the book. Vaughn takes sword fighting seriously; it’s not just slashing swords and steel on steel. Vaughn uses fencing terminology and stresses the fact that this is where the sport originated. The terminology is probably a bit hard to get used to for someone who’s never fenced before, so I thought it was handy to have the glossary at the end of STEEL that described terms such as redoublement and passé.

But despite the fact that I enjoyed the fencing scenes, STEEL failed to capture my attention most of the time. STEEL is under 300 pages and told from the third person perspective, with Jill as the single main character viewpoint. I just didn’t enjoy this novel coming from Jill’s perspective. I didn’t really understand her role in STEEL. Yes, she brought back a shard of Blane’s sword by accident – but that’s it. Nothing about Jill is special.

To be honest, I would have loved reading this novel from the perspective of Captain Cooper – or even better, Edmund Blane. The story is really about them and their fierce rivalry. Captain Cooper is such an interesting character since you usually don’t read about revered female pirate captains. I found her back story fascinating and I wished that she had been more central to the story. Furthermore, for a villain, I felt like Blain was such a flat character. You always just heard about how terrible he is, but you never really get to hear it from his point of view.

There’s a smudge of romance in this book and I honestly thought it was quite unnecessary. Why can’t guys and girls just remain friends? The romance didn’t satisfy me in any way, and I just felt a bit irritated that it was in the story at all.

The last detail that bothered me about STEEL is that the time travel aspect is something that just happens. Vaughn unfortunately does very little to explain the phenomena and just relies on the reader’s imagination to believe that Jill can just fall into the ocean and get magically transported back to the 18th century. The device may work on some readers, but it failed to impress me. I feel like Jill just blended in so well into the time period, and no one really questioned her. I’d expect that many of her mannerisms and speech differed from the pirates, but it was never really brought up in the book.

I honestly wanted to like STEEL more than I did. I had pretty good expectations for this one because I generally love time travel and pirate books. However, the combination of the two just didn’t work out for me in STEEL by Carrie Vaughn. I would still recommend readers who are interested in this novel to give it a shot and to Borrow It from your public library. But for those who want a little more romance and minus the time travel, there’s always TO CATCH A PIRATE by Jade Parker (you can read my book review here).

Other Book Reviews:
Good Books and Good Wine
Into the Book
Novel Thoughts

About the Author

Vaughn was born into a military family and has lived all over the U.S. She received a BA from Occidental College, after which she went on to work too many jobs to count until she went back to school to receive her MA from University of Colorado at Boulder. She currently lives in Boulder, CO.

Find the Author

Website | GoodReads


  1. Agreed. It just didn’t work. I admit that the romance was unneeded but I still liked it because I’m a sucker for romance. ;) I pretty much agree with everything else in your review…bummer it wasn’t better! I love love love Pirate stories
    (I’m a die-hard PoTC fan – the first three) so I was super bummed out when I didn’t like this one… Great review!

    1. I love pirate stories as well, but mostly in adult romance. I don’t think I’ve found a pirate YA that I really really loved. Oh well, on with the search! Thanks for the comment. :D

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