A Clash of Steel by CB Lee

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 received a copy of this book from NetGalley. All thoughts are my own.


What a lovely read! I’ve never read Treasure Island (or consumed any of its derivative medias) so I had no idea what to expect coming in, but this was a delightful tale of sapphic discovery and Chinese-Vietnamese worldbuilding!

We follow the journey of Xiang, only daughter her wealthy merchant mother but oft-neglected to a small, country-side village in Southern China while her mother takes to the seas. Xiang, as people stuck in the countryside with only stories of the outside do, dreams of adventure, of exploring the outdoors. And when she finally convinces her mother to take her to the city with her, to finally learn her mother’s business and trade, she becomes whisked away on a wild adventure of sailing, treasure, and a possible romance with the mysterious young sailor Anh.

What stood out to me the most while reading was the sheer sensory pleasure Lee invokes in her writing. Xiang journey’s through a myriad of new locations and we, the readers, are encompassed with beautifully evocative language, from the smells of fresh foods to the bustles of crowded cities. Xiang visits the hectic street markets of Guangdong, the boisterous taverns of sailors on break, experiences the quiet intimate moments between her and Ahn. The worldbuilding and settings are so richly written.

That being said, it seemed the pacing of this book slowed immensely to allow Xiang the time to take in all these new locations. Plot-wise, I found the pacing to be extremely slow and did occasionally find myself wishing Xiang would spend less time describing things and more time actually doing whatever she’d set out to do. To me, Xiang was a little *too* introspective for my liking.

Overall, I rate this book a 4/5. I enjoyed the plot, the characters, and the sapphic romance. The worldbuilding was phenomenally done, but I did find myself wishing the pacing were a little faster.

r/Fantasy 2021-22 Bingo Squares:

  • Set in Asia (hard mode)
  • Published in 2021
  • X of Y

Publication Date: 7 September 2021
Publisher: Feiwel and Friends
Format: eBook, ARC
Pages: 304
Word Count: ~101,000
ISBN: 1250750377 
Buy It Here: Amazon | Google Books | Barnes and Nobles | Goodreads

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