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16-year-old Jill is focused solely on her passion: fencing. She practices for hours on end, is talented, and even has big plans for the Olympics. But when she loses the important tournament by a mere half second, all of her dreams come crashing down, causing her to take another look at her goals and wondering if that path is worth pursuing anymore. Losing touch with her dreams has her drowning in a sea of melancholy.

Jill's mom, dad, and younger brother and sister try to cheer her up on their family vacation to the Bahamas, but she can't seem to shake the depression that has gripped her heart. When Jill decides to take a walk along the beach, she discovers a broken tip of an ancient sword that magically transports her back to the 18th century and on a real pirate ship. At first, she can only believe that she's caught in some sort of dream, that she will wake up at any second. But when she witnesses the capture of a slave ship and sees the broken people bound in chains, she realizes that it's all real. Jill is now the newest member of the crew, a real-life pirate on the ship Diana.

As she learns all the details of sailing on the high seas with a seasoned crew of pirates, captained by the brave and fiery Marjory Cooper, Jill desperately tries to figure out a way home. She believes the solution ties in to reuniting the broken sword tip she found with its other half, which just happens to belong to Captain Cooper's worst enemy. Jill must confront this evil pirate in the most important of all sword fighting tournaments, fencing not for points, but for her life.

Carrie Vaughn, the bestselling author of VOICES OF DRAGONS, takes a new direction in her writing with a high adventure trip to the historical world of pirates. She has done her research well, both in terms of history and the sport of fencing. Each chapter is cleverly titled after a fencing term, with definitions listed in the glossary. However, through the character of Jill, readers will get the chance to feel the meaning of those terms and learn right alongside Jill as she becomes a true 18th-century pirate. Vaughn introduces some real-life pirates, including the famous Blackbeard, Calico Jack, Anne Bonny and Mary Read, though her own colorful and spirited characters are the heroes of this story.

Through it all, Vaughn writes with vivid descriptions that place the reader directly in the middle of the action: "The vessel, which had been traveling peacefully, cutting through waves on what seemed to be a gentle breeze, became fierce. It slammed into the next set of waves, and water sprayed up, over the railing. Sails slacked and rippled, seemingly confused for a moment, before finding the wind again and filling, wide and taut, sounding like cracks of thunder."

STEEL delivers an exciting and satisfying adventure, complete with dangerous pirates, mighty sailing ships and heart-pounding swordfights. Carrie Vaughn has proven her writing talents, and fans will be waiting impatiently for more.

Reviewed by Chris Shanley-Dillman on March 15, 2011

by Carrie Vaughn

  • Publication Date: March 13, 2012
  • Genres: Fantasy, Fiction
  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: HarperTeen
  • ISBN-10: 0061956503
  • ISBN-13: 9780061956508