When I saw the promotional material for Babylon Steel I had a good chuckle before I carefully read the blurb. Babylon Steel is a former mercenary who got tired of travelling, and opened up a brothel. She is asked to help find a missing girl, so it won't just be The Secret Diary of a Call Girl. Oh and there is also girl on lizard action. Just thought we should get that out of the way. Solaris Books were very kind and gave me a copy of Babylon Steel to review.
Babylon Steel really cares for her crew, but she does wish they had less expensive tastes. If it isn't Laney ordering expensive silks, it's Flower in the kitchen ordering enough food to feed an army. Honestly, when a client is here, food will be the last thing on his (or her) mind anyway. Who would have thought her accounts would be her most intimidating enemy. When Darask Fain makes her a very generous offer to find a missing girl she can't really say no. The money is sorely needed, but Babylon Steel knows what it's like to be a young and naive girl alone in a dangerous city.
Naturally, being in the people business Babylon Steel knows a lot of people, and she figures one of them must have seen the girl. She sets out to spread the word among her contacts of the missing girl. It quickly turns out a missing girl is not her only problem, a religious sect, The Vessels of Purity, is starting to cause her problems. Two of their members are standing outside The Red Lantern scaring away her customers. The Vessels are usually law abiding, but when words reaches Babylon Steel of a young prostitute being found dead she does not know what to think. She rushes off to identify the body, dreading what she’ll find.
The world building in Babylon Steel is fantastic. Gaie Sebold has created her own Mos Eisley Cantina, and filled it with some truly fascinating creatures and beings. Some are very human, some are bipedal lizards, and some are just really weird. What they all have in common is how well they all fit into her world. It was an absolute pleasure journeying through Gaie Sebold's creation, with a sense of wonder and amazement as my companions. It left me wanting more.
Her imagination is not limited to creatures, she has also thought up a interesting setting for her story. Scalentine, is a city with some interesting properties. Magic, and other abilities of powerful beings is severely dampened. There are also several portals leading to other planes of existence, which makes Scalentine into a hub for commerce and diplomacy. Not a bad place for a brothel. Scalentine actually reminds me of London. A great mix of different cultures, food, shops, and unfortunately crime. Babylon Steel does not leave without her blade and armour. Her armour is also more of the practical kind than the revealing kind, unless a client has made a special request of course.
There is no beating around the bush, sex plays a prominent part in Gaie Sebold's story. She does seem to challenge inhibitions surrounding sex in a playful and good natured way. It never feels awkward, which it can sometimes do when writers tries to mix in too many weird species. I for one will stick to my own species. I don't think for a minute the life of the average sex worker is as fun as those working in the Red Lantern, but it would not be the same book without it.
The plot is very good as well. There are two major story arcs, and so far I've only covered the present time one. The other one tells of how Babylon Steel ended up where she is today. The two arcs alternate chapters, the ones from the past are short, but sweet. Our blade twirling escort has a very very interesting past, and I recently said Empire State was a book which kept surprising me. Babylon Steel did the same thing. Our heroine is also firmly in charge of the plot, it's moved forward by her actions. If the plot was a river, Babylon Steel would be making her own way with powerful strokes of the oars in a little boat, not drifting helplessly.
The characters are great as well. Babylon Steel is a very likeable lady, who obviously cares about her people. She might be tough nut, but she defiantly has a soft nougat filling, which she proves over and over again. She knows what is right and is prepared to break a few bones to get there. The two timelines shows us how she grows and develops as a person over quite a long time. It all feels intimate, and I grew to like her a lot. The supporting cast are well written with distinct personalities, which made it easy to feel engaged with the story. There is a lot to like about this book.
Babylon Steel is more about the characters and the interaction between them than sword fighting. There is of course some of that as well, with a few really tense moments where I was worried I might crush my iPad from gripping it too hard. Gaie Sebold tells a great story, which in spite of being full of misery and hardship also has a lot of gentleness in it. I absolutely loved it! Please read it.
Babylon Steel weighs in at 448 pages and is published by Solaris Books.
Recommendation: must read