Book Review: Steel Magic by J.L. Gribble

As I mentioned in my book review for Steel Victory, I read both Steel Victory and the sequel Steel Magic (Urban Fantasy 184 pages) by J.L. Gribble in the same day.

Steel_Magic“Funerals are usually the end of the story, not the beginning. Newly graduated warrior-mages Toria Connor and Kane Nalamas find themselves the last remaining mages in the city when a mage school teacher mysteriously fall ill and dies. But taking over the school themselves isn’t in the cards. They’re set to become professional mercenaries – if they make it through the next 18 months as journeymen first. The debate over whether to hunt mutated monsters in the Wasteland or take posh bodyguard jobs is put on hold when a city elder hires them to solve the mystery of the disappearing mages. Toria and Kane’s quest brings them to the British colonial city of New Angouleme, where their initial investigation reveals that the problem is even greater than they feared. But when a friend is kidnapped, they’ll have to travel to the other side of the globe to save her, save themselves, and save magic itself.”

In my review of Steel Victory, I spoke a little bit about how I’m pretty sure Toria is asexual. The events and her reactions to those events in Steel Magic only served to solidify my thoughts concerning Toria’s distinct and complete lack of sexual attraction. What makes me so sure? Here’s my list so far:

-In Steel Victory, Toria never expresses any sort of sexual attraction to anyone.
-In the deleted scene from Steel Victory provided by the author on her website, Syri asks Toria if Toria’s reputation will be damaged by leaving the make-out room with Syri and Toria replies with “What reputation”, which leaves me to believe that Toria has a reputation of not having sex or interest in sex.
-Toria is absolutely accepting of everyone else’s sexuality throughout both Steel Victory and Steel Magic.
-In Steel Magic, Kane meets Archer and the two of them become romantically and sexually involved. During this time, Toria feels Kane through their bond and it makes her uncomfortable and she finds places to hide throughout the ship. Sex and sexual acts make her uncomfortable.
-This has nothing to do with her being asexual, but in this character interview, sex and attraction is never mentioned, but Toria does talk about how much she loves her friends and how fantastic her family is. Just how she views the people she cares about and how she talks about them makes me convinced she’s asexual.
-In Steel Magic when Toria and Kane meet Archer and she feels even remotely attracted to him, the very first thing she does is check for magic. That says a lot to me about someone who does not experience sexual attraction and that if she does experience even the hintings of physical attraction to automatically check for outside influences.
-In Steel Magic, Kane and Toria live together and Syri crashes at their place frequently. Toria talks about how they are all physically comfortable with each other and often wind up falling asleep together, but it’s never referenced in a sexual way.

Why am I so focused on this? Because finding positive and accurate asexual representation is near impossible. I don’t think I’ve actually found any characters who are listed as asexual who are actually positive representations of asexuality. Most of the ones I’ve read so far that supposedly have asexual representation feel like tokens to me. They feel like someone dropped a character in as a supporting character and decided to make them asexual to increase their diverse representation. Toria is the first main character in any series I’ve ever read who I am 99% certain is asexual based on the character herself.

To be fair, both Steel Victory and Steel Magic already have a very diverse cast. Kane is most likely gay because he is very interested in men and has a variety of romantic and sexual engagements, but the author doesn’t actually label anyone’s sexuality in this series, which is another of the things about these books I truly enjoy. Nowhere in either of the first two books is it written that Kane is gay; it’s shown through his attraction to men and through his actions and interactions with other characters. The characters in this series are also incredibly ethnically diverse, but they aren’t tossed around like tropes. Very few of the characters in this series are ethnically white but it’s never dealt with in a way that is anything other than just the way things are, which increases the reality and the believability of the world-building in this series.

Speaking about believability, this is probably the first book I’ve read that actually had realistic deaths. Death, especially death caused by violence, isn’t pretty and it isn’t epic. Sometimes, it’s very, very sudden and unexpected. Death caused by violence doesn’t give the person dying the chance to participate in heroic last monologues, last minute pleas to take care of someone obvious, accomplish some save-the-world task, or deliver final parting lines of love. Death by violence is the opposite of epic – it usually just kind of happens, especially when someone is faced with a person who has done terrible things to them.

I like how this book and this series breaks so many of the general trope rules. Even though Toria and Kane are both mages, they are also both warriors, which means that they often look for physical methods of disrupting spells instead of just depending on their magic skills to get out of a bind. A particular section of this book amused me the most when they find themselves magically trapped in a room and in a “normal” urban fantasy world, that would have been the end of the story, but not here.

That’s something I haven’t really discussed much, either in this review or in my review of Steel Victory – how amusing I’ve found the characters in this series. I find their dialogue and actions incredibly realistic and amusing in their sarcasm and interaction with each other and with other characters. I have chuckled out loud several times in both books and I am greatly amused by the characters themselves.

One of the things I think would be helpful with this series is if there were numbers on the spine of the book or some other way for me to know which book comes first in the series. I had to look up copyright dates in the front of the books and use that to determine which book is first and which second. That, however, is my only less-positive thing to say about this book and this series so far.

Overall, I’d say this book is another high four on my rating scale. I am extremely happy that I purchased the book and will easily and happily continue to find and read any subsequent books in this series.

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About C.A. Jacobs

Just another crazy person, masquerading as a writer.
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