A Clash of Steel (Remixed Classics #1) by C. B. Lee
Published by Feiwel & Friends
Young Adult, Historical Fiction
Release Date : September 7th 2021
Two intrepid girls hunt for a legendary treasure on the deadly high seas in this YA remix of the classic adventure novel Treasure Island.
1826. The sun is setting on the golden age of piracy, and the legendary Dragon Fleet, the scourge of the South China Sea, is no more. Its ruthless leader, a woman known only as the Head of the Dragon, is now only a story, like the ones Xiang has grown up with all her life. She desperately wants to prove her worth, especially to her mother, a shrewd businesswoman who never seems to have enough time for Xiang. Her father is also only a story, dead at sea before Xiang was born. Her single memento of him is a pendant she always wears, a simple but plain piece of gold jewelry.
But the pendant’s true nature is revealed when a mysterious girl named Anh steals it, only to return it to Xiang in exchange for her help in decoding the tiny map scroll hidden inside. The revelation that Xiang’s father sailed with the Dragon Fleet and tucked away this secret changes everything. Rumor has it that the legendary Head of the Dragon had one last treasure—the plunder of a thousand ports—that for decades has only been a myth, a fool’s journey.
Xiang is convinced this map could lead to the fabled treasure. Captivated with the thrill of adventure, she joins Anh and her motley crew off in pursuit of the island. But the girls soon find that the sea—and especially those who sail it—are far more dangerous than the legends led them to believe.
“I want the world.”
ARC provided by the publisher Feiwel & Friends / Macmillan Publishers through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review as part of the #AClashofSteelTour organized by Colored Pages Book Tours
An outstanding sapphic Asian inspired remix of a classic pirate adventure story following Xiang and Anh as they embark to find the legendary treasure trove of the famed pirate queen Zheng Yi Sao. A queer pirate adventure that surely will make a splash in the ocean of young adult books.
First and foremost I would like to thank Colored Pages Book Tours for choosing me as one of the many amazing book bloggers for A Clash of Steel tour from September 7th to September 14th 2021. Thank you as well to the author and publisher Feiwel & Friends for providing an ARC (Advance Readers Copy) as part of this blog tour.
All my life I’ve been waiting, and now I’m doing.
During my time in lock down back in July I was scrolling through Twitter and the cover for A Clash of Steel passed by my timeline. When I read the blurb for A Clash of Steel it really appealed to me, “Two intrepid girls hunt for a legendary treasure on the deadly high seas in this YA remix of the classic adventure novel Treasure Island”. I’ve never read the book Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson before but I’ve seen the Disney Sci-Fi animated adaptation of the book titled Treasure Planet (2002) when I was a child. The movie itself is impressive that I’ve rewatched it plenty of times. For A Clash of Steel I didn’t have any expectations as I don’t remember much from Treasure Planet and never read any of C. B. Lee’s previous works so I went in completely blind. The only thing I know is that A Clash of Steel is an Asian queer retelling of Treasure Island with two protagonists, one Chinese and one Vietnamese. Let me repeat that! An Asian queer retelling! This is what we need! A remixed rendition of a classic that is written by a white author turn it up side down and write it for people of color. That alone is enough to convince me to pick it up.
Before we jump into the review, let’s talk about the beautiful cover for A Clash of Steel! The cover is illustrated by Feifei Ruan, the same artist that did the cover for Joan He’s Descendant of the Crane and Malinda Lo’s Last Night at the Telegraph Club to name a few. And designed by the talented Rich Deas. It is gorgeous! I love the colors and seeing Anh with Xiang looking back holding swords on the helm of the ship is just *chef’s kiss*. The cover further convince me that it’s gonna be an awesome story and judging by my rating above I can verify I had a good time.
I find new strength in the sea, in the wind in my hair, in the way sunlight glints off the ocean waves, in the dazzling sunsets over the water.
In A Clash of Steel the story follows Xiang, a girl who lives in a quiet village in the mountains dreaming of seeing the world. Xiang loves spending her time watching the ships from up the hill yearning for the sea and foreign lands. Growing up in a secluded village Xiang is limited to her day to day task of studying, reading, and helping whenever she can at the tea house that is owned by her mother. Xiang rarely meets her mother that is often travelling the world as a salt trader. Xiang’s mother’s visits are rare and brief resulting in Xiang being raise by her tutors and her mother’s tea house employees. The absence of Xiang’s mother has led her to be desperate in earning her approval and affection whenever she visits. The only parental figure Xiang ever known aside from her mother is her tutor, Master Feng. He had taught Xiang everything from philosophy, history, poetry, literature, and sums. But that isn’t enough for a curious child like Xiang, she wants to experience and see everything first hand. Xiang doesn’t want to live a boring life of raising a family and she wants to be like her mother.
One day during her mother’s rare visits, Xiang finds courage in herself to prove to her mother that she is capable of continuing her legacy as a trader. But her mother has other plans for Xiang as she is set to marry a man. Determined to prove her mother wrong Xiang convinces her to give Xiang a chance to go to Canton, one of the major port cities in China that is the hub for trade from all over the world. However going to Canton did not satisfy Xiang’s thirst for adventure it only intensifies it. During her outing in town Xiang meets Anh in which she quickly forms a friendship with. Losing hope in her future Xiang convinces herself that she needs to take the matter into her own hands. Accompanied by Anh and her crew she sets of to sea armed with the map to find the legendary treasure of the Dragon Fleet.
Perhaps my soul has lived in the wrong place this whole time, and I’ve always been meant to be at sea.
The world in which the story takes place is centered mostly in China and somewhere in Vietnam, specifically the sea near those two countries for the most part of the story. Lee expertly weaves history into her story drawing inspiration from one of China’s most infamous and prominent figures Zheng Yi Shao. The legendary pirate Zheng Yi Sao that lead the Pirate Confederation and ruled the South China Sea back in the 1800s serves as an inspiration for the plot that drives our two protagonist. The only time I’ve seen a depiction of Zheng Yi Sao in western media is probably in the movie sequel for Pirates of the Caribbean. Seeing a different version of Zheng Yi Sao that is every bit of gas light, gate keep, and girl boss is refreshing to see. Lee did an amazing job at remixing a classic into a more modern and inclusive story that I’m sure a lot of the younger generation will grow up to appreciate.
A Clash of Steel is a well written story from start to end. Lee’s writing is accessible and detailed that I could easily immerse myself into the story. The descriptions of places and the scenery is meticulously done which only made me want to travel more than ever. Besides the historical inspiration I want to gush about the food that are mentioned throughout the story. What I love more besides characters in books is descriptions of food. Lee wrote about the food with the same amount of importance as any other part of the story. In my opinion food is a window to the culture and the people of the world as it is a universal language that anyone can relate to. In A Clash of Steel it achieved that by showing how big and diverse Canton is through the food which is such a delight to read. Though I have to admit personally I had trouble with the pacing. During the first few chapters the pacing is on the slower side for me that it made crave for something interesting to happen. This is something subjective and relatively a small speed bump in my reading experience. Because the plot did pick up when Anh is introduced into the story and the pacing did get better in the later chapters.
I have felt untethered all my life, drifting endlessly, and here, finally is a safe place to land, a quite harbor to protect me from the turbulence of the sea.
The back bone of A Clash of Steel is it’s cast of strong and lovable characters. Xiang the main driving force of the story is determined, compassionate, and all around a joy to read. Her development throughout the story is believable and realistic. The need to prove to herself and everyone else fuels her drive to break barrier after barrier that stood in her way. Xiang stood up for herself and took it upon herself to show how determined she is to find who she is and where she fits in the story. Lee’s characterization of Xiang exceeded my expectations tremendously. The obedient and sheltered Xiang grew to be a strong woman by the end of the book carrying herself with much more confidence. Anh, the main love interest, is also well fleshed out and is so fun to see interact with our main character. I wish we get to see more from her perspective because Anh’s characterization is interesting and has a lot of potential. The relationship that developed between the two characters is a slow build that creeps on with the small acts. The lingering stares and breathless brief brushes of fingers against hands between the two left me yearning to see them together. Xiang and Anh is the ship I wish to never sink because of their chemistry and vibe when they are near is crackling with tension.
I’m tired of others deciding my story for me. I’m done.
A few other characters that caught my attention in the story is Xiang’s mother and Captain Hoa, Anh’s mother. Two very different mother figures which parallel each other throughout the book. Xiang’s mother is mostly absent from her life and shows that she has very high standards towards the people she associates with including Xiang. The affection she shows are limited, cold, and detached like she’s putting on an act instead of genuinely expressing it. Captain Hoa on the other hand is a present mother that loves and cares for her family deeply extending to the crew of Huyền Vũ. Even to Xiang, a total stranger, she shows kindness and warmth towards her. Captain Hoa shows her appreciation and gives constant assurances to her crew with no discrimination or lack of empathy. Seeing the parallels between the two women made me think a lot about Xiang and Anh’s upbringing. If Xiang didn’t board the Huyền Vũ she wouldn’t have developed to become a much stronger character that finally realizes who she is and the real people that care about her.
“I suppose I wouldn’t rather be stuck on this island with anyone but you.”
Final thoughts, A Clash of Steel is the Sapphic nautical adventure that I didn’t know I needed until I read this book. It is a story filled with self discovery and development both on ground and sea that any reader can easily get lost into during these rough times. C. B. Lee’s ability to weave Asian history into a well loved classic, all the while making it educational, inclusive, fun, and queer is truly astounding. The masterful story telling and amazing characters made the whole experience of reading A Clash of Steel all the more enjoyable. Even though it is a story about treasure hunting the message it carries strives beyond material things. The themes about family, friendship, and love that became the core of the story were conveyed beautifully through the experiences of our main protagonist Xiang and other characters. Everything from the plot, premise, and overall structure is executed beautifully by C. B. Lee that by the end of the story I felt satisfied with how things turned out. The ending is wrapped up nicely and carries a hopeful tone of endless possibilities for adventure.
Reading Lee’s author’s note I understood that A Clash of Steel is also inspired by Lee’s family history. Specifically Lee’s mother’s and father’s experience escaping a war torn Vietnam on boats. Lee’s mother actually met pirates in real life and had first hand encounters with them. The story hits differently for me after knowing this piece of personal account. I hope by writing this review that I can convince people to read A Clash of Steel not only for the Sapphic yearning between Xiang and Anh but also to shed a light on the stories that is never given a chance to be told. Stories by people from all different backgrounds and ethnicities. Please do pick up A Clash of Steel I highly recommend this book for all readers who are looking to escape to the sea for an action packed sapphic treasure hunting adventure. By the time this review is up the book is already released so I strongly urge you to pick up a copy.
The quotes in this review were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.
This is a playlist of songs I compiled to capture the image and mood of A Clash of Steel based of my own interpretations of certain scenes in the story or a song that reminded me of a character. To dive a little deeper into why I chose the songs in the playlist I will pick my top five songs !
1. Winding River by Yu-Peng Chen, HOYO MiX
This first song in the playlist sets the tone for the overall mood of the story. I tried picking grand songs that reflect the epic pirate adventure vibe but it didn’t feel right to me. I wanted a song that introduces readers to Xiang and to the place where she grew up secluded from the world through the winding river. It’s a fairly short song but it carries so much emotion of sadness and longing that is felt by Xiang during her times in the village.
2. 난춘 (亂春) (NAN CHUN) by 새소년 (SE SO NEON)
This song reminds of that scene on board of the Huyền Vũ between Anh and Xiang. There were many scenes of them together but that one is so soft and cuddly.
그대 나의 작은 심장에 귀 기울일 때에 입을 꼭 맞추어 내 숨을 가져가도 돼요 저무는 아침에 속삭이는 숨 영롱한 달빛에 괴롭히는 꿈 네 눈을 닮은 사랑, 그 안에 지는 계절 파도보다 더 거칠게 내리치는 오 그대여 부서지지마 바람새는 창틀에 넌 추워지지마 이리와 나를 꼭 안자 오늘을 살아내고 우리 내일로 가자
Translation : Love, when you listen carefully to my small heart it’s okay if you take my breath away with a kiss a whispering breath on a darkening morning a dream that’s disturbed in the brilliant moonlight a love that resembles your eyes and the season that draws to a close inside them striking down, fiercer than a wave oh, love, don’t fall apart don’t catch cold by the windowsill where the wind leaks in come over here, hold me tight let’s live out this day and together, go on to tomorrow
3. Girl by sobs
This song by sobs reminds me so much of Anh. From the lyrics and the melancholic melody got me thinking of the girl that took Xiang running around Canton tasting the delicious foods. Specifically to the meeting scene and Anh’s farewell to Xiang. I feel like this song fits the mood of that first encounter really well.
Verse 1 : Sleepwalking past your mind's eye Have they begun to fade? You told me you like my smile But I got it from you Chorus : Girl you got me searchin' for answers With hints that you spelt backwards Girl you got me runnin' through alleys Chasing with my boots, they're laced so tight Girl you got me searchin' for answers With hints that you spelt backwards Girl you got me runnin' through alleys all for you
Verse 2 : All I wanted was a friend Spare me your dead affirmation All the pretty things are fake Yet you failed to see the truth
4. Rather Be by Clean Bandit (ft. Jess Glynne)
Oh this song! It’s one of my favorites from high school. It is a banger of a song that has the tropical vibe to it which fits the seafaring agenda of travelling the world. The song is also an obvious nod to Xiang’s relationship with Anh. Interpret it as you will~
We're a thousand miles from comfort We have travelled land and sea But as long as you are with me There's no place I'd rather be I would wait forever Exalted in the scene As long as I am with you My heart continues to beat With every step we take, Kyoto to The Bay Strollin' so casually We're different and the same, gave you another name Switch up the batteries If you gave me a chance, I would take it It's a shot in the dark, but I'll make it Know with all of your heart, you can't shame me When I am with you, there's no place I'd rather be N-n-no, no, no, no place I'd rather be N-n-no, no, no, no place I'd rather be N-n-no, no, no, no place I'd rather be (Oh)
We staked out on a mission, to find our inner peace Make it everlasting So nothing's incomplete It's easy being with you, sacred simplicity As long as we're together There's no place I'd rather be
5. Live Well by Palace
I picked this song because of the lyrics and the message it conveys fits the climax of the story perfectly. Readers will understand what I mean if you read the book. Even though the song doesn’t fit the vibe of the playlist I wanted to fit it in there.
Sundown Ever so slow now Remind me I'm free man Freer than I've been It's something I'm feeling I'm wonderfully breathing Blessed in the rainfall Cleansed like the downpour And I know it's fine to end our time Be safe, be true, and I'll think of you Live well, you reap what you sow The future is bright if we can ebb with the flow You're something, I'm nothing, we were everything Anything to save me from the goodness she gave me
Moonrise Over my headlights And I'm on the right track I've taken my life back And turned it upside down You're living for that sweet sound You'll laugh like the warm sun Cuts through me like the only one It's nothing less than a mystery How it came to this I see And if it comes to this I know We'll have had more than most did so In a dream that I have had We departed, ended what we had started And I pray it doesn't come to that If it does thanks for the love we had
About the Author
CB Lee is a Lambda Literary Award nominated writer of young adult science fiction and fantasy. Her works include the Sidekick Squad series (Duet Books), Ben 10 (Boom!), and All Out Now (HarperTeen). CB loves to write about queer teens, magic, superheroes, and the power of friendship.
Lee’s work has been featured in Teen Vogue, Wired Magazine, and Hypable. Lee’s first novel in the Sidekick Squad series, Not Your Sidekick was a 2017 Lambda Literary Awards Finalist in YA/Children’s Fiction and a 2017 Bisexual Book Awards Finalist in Speculative Fiction. Seven Tears at High Tide was the recipient of a Rainbow Award for Best Bisexual Fantasy Romance and also a finalist for the 2016 Bisexual Book Awards in the YA and Speculative Fiction categories.
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