For the past five years or so I’ve been trying to read books by all the members of the Scribblies writers’ group, which includes Patricia C. Wrede and Pamela Dean, my two favorite authors. I am utterly fond of urban fantasy and read everything I can find on the subject. The current Scribblie I’m reading is Kara Dalkey.
I found this book in the mail Saturday morning from a PaperBackSwap member. She had told me that she loved Kara Dalkey’s books and that I should read her historical fiction books next. I sat on the couch, unwrapped Steel Rose and started reading. Despite two family birthday parties, five loads of laundry, and a trip to the house we’re trying to buy, I finished Steel Rose that evening.
It reminded me a lot of Emma Bull’s The War for the Oaks, which has been one of my absolute favorite books since I read it last year. In fact, it’s a complete role-reversal of The War for the Oaks, with the protagonist on the side of the Unseelie rather than the Seelie court. T.J. accidentally conjures up two Unseelie knockers while practicing for a performance art piece at a Pittsburgh park, who want her to help them overthrow the Queen of the Sidhe.
T.J. meets various Seelie and Unseelie characters roaming the streets of Pittsburgh and Under the Hill, including a lascivious Italian brownie, Luigi, folk legend Joe Magarac, a Ganconer hit man, and Queen Mab herself. It was a great fun, quick read and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I loved the desecriptions of Pittsburgh and the local folklore that appeared in the book.
Some of the writing was a bit uneven. T.J. had issues both with her father dying and her mother’s pressure for her to grow up that were mentioned several times but never really wrapped up. T.J.’s superstitious grandmother was a great character that I had hoped would show up more towards the end.
I was very interested in the dynamics between the Sidhe and the Unseelie in Steel Rose. The Seelie court is depicted as Mother Earth-loving hippie types that protest pollution in Pittsburgh and want an end to the factories. The Unseelie court consists of average Joe blue-collars workers. The Unseelie are the instigatiots of this partiuclar turf war, claiming they want more respect from the Seelie court. They also want the steel mills to stay open. T.J. kind of waffles back and forth, wondering if she should really be on the Sidhe side, because she loves the earth, too, but the fact that her father was a steel mill worker keeps her loyalties to the Unseelie court firm. It was an unusual take on the Seelie/Unseelie court situation, and I really, really liked it.
I just wish that in the end, there was more of a resolution. The Unseelie are ready to die for their mills and the Seelie are ready to die for their plants and the only reason the fight is stopped is because T.J. makes them have a truce. But the truce doesn’t mean anything, because nothing is resolved and the war will only start again.
Still, it was great to read urban fantasy again and I’m keen to read more of Kara Dalkey’s writing.