I wasn’t sure what to expect when I opened Steelflower. The cover art looked like your standard urban fantasy cover: a feisty female with an exotic looking sword, shot from the back. The plot description on the back cover sounded like someone’s novelization of a roleplaying game — elvish sellsword meets crude barbarian and they join up to defeat the evil badguy — but what I found inside was a fun sword and sorcery style romp with interesting main characters and non-stop action.
The thief and assassin known as Steelflower is actually Kaia, a G’mai (elf) who leaves her home country after being shunned by her people for ten years because she lacks Power. The G’mai are bred to possess power, and can only operate it in twinned pairs, a female adai and a male starei. The female works magic, and the starei protects her, both from herself as well as others. The G’mai are paired off fairly young in their lives, and these pairings are permanent, and function as marriages as the children age. If they are separated from each other, either because of distance or death of one of the pairing, they sicken and die. Kaia is orphaned as a five year old when her mother dies of an illness, and her father dies shortly thereafter from the loss. Because Kaia doesn’t have Power, she doesn’t have a function in G’mai society, and ends up leaving to find her fortune in other lands. But when a G’mai male appears in her life, insisting that she is his adai, it changes her entire life.
The plot of Steelflower isn’t particularly original or innovative, though I do particularly like the paired magic system of the G’mai, but where Steelflower shines is in the relationship between Kaia and her would-be starei Darik. Kaia has been away from her people for years, and when this handsome G’mai shows up to tell her new and interesting details about her past, she doesn’t automatically accept him and his story. Steelflower manages to have a lot of action while most of the conflict is actually character driven, as Kaia struggles to decide what to do with Darik and his claims about her relationship with him. The ongoing internal conflict provides most of the tension in the book. For all the action, there really isn’t a villain until almost the last 50 pages of the book.
Steelflower does have some weaknesses. Outside of the two main characters, the supporting cast is really underdeveloped. I kept getting characters confused as more people were added to the story. The prose at times was awkward and poorly edited, and there were times I had to stop and read the same sentence multiple times to figure out what was being said. The most egregious flaw, however, was the abysmal artwork in the book. These drawings look like something Napoleon Dynamite did with a number two pencil in math class. They actually threw me out of the narrative flow of the story as I would try to reconcile what was in the drawing with the mental picture in my head. This book is the start of a series, and I am begging the powers that be to not include artwork in the future.
Steelflower is not great fiction, but it’s a fun light read with interesting main characters. I’m interested in seeing where the story will go from here, since it was left with many possible courses of action for the protagonist to follow. Steelflower is a great choice for reading with a cold drink at the beach or by the pool this summer.