Book Review: Steeplejack

Amazon Cover

Steeplejack by A.J. Hartley


Thoughtfully imaginative and action-packed, Steeplejack is New York Times bestselling A. J. Hartley’s YA debut set in a 19th-century South African fantasy world

Seventeen-year-old Anglet Sutonga lives and works as a steeplejack in Bar-Selehm, a sprawling city known for its great towers, spires, and smokestacks – and even greater social disparities across race and class.

Ang’s world is turned upside-down when her new apprentice Berrit is murdered the same night that the city’s landmark jewel is stolen. Her search for answers behind his death exposes unrest in the streets and powerful enemies. But she also finds help from unexpected friends: a kindhearted savannah herder, a politician’s haughty sister, and a savvy newspaper girl. As troubles mount in Bar-Selehm, Ang must discover the truth behind both murder and theft soon – or else watch the city descend into chaos.



The opening is a mesmerizing account of climbing a chimney to repair it, perfectly explaining the main character, the city, and the culture in a single moment. The moment when our main character realizes the Beacon is missing.

The story then unfolds in this alternate universe without magic or weird-science, from the era of steampunk without being steampunk. Part murder mystery, part political thriller. Our seventeen-year-old protagonist, whose skin color bars her entry to everything with power and money, discovers herself in the middle of power and money.

All she wants is justice for a boy no one cared about. A hidden murder of a throw-away child in a throw-away occupation; steeplejacks fall all the time. To solve his murder, Ang will have to climb high in the city’s political soot and ash, and risk falling even further. If she falls, she will be just another steeplejack crumpled by the city’s harsh cobblestones. 

But if she doesn’t fall, she just might ignite a war.