Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff

Rating 8.0/10
A fun and entertaining debut that presents an imaginative, dystopian setting.

At first glance, Jay Kristoff's new Japanese Steampunk novel almost looks too good to be true. Japanese Steampunk?! I really didn't know what to make of it. Being someone who has read manga since 5th grade and a constant Japanese related addict, I wasn't sure how to accept a westerner's interpretation of the Asian world, simply because, quite often, Asians are portrayed as over-the-top weird, family oriented third class citizens playing dinky sidekick to the white hero.

However, when it comes to a foreigner's portrayal of a Japanese protagonist, Kristoff's butt-kicking, smart-mouthed Yukiko Kitsune does not disappoint. She is not stereotypical in many ways as she is a rather melancholy, tight-laced anti-hero with daddy issues, her plight and the girl it has created, comes first before the ethnicity.

A DYING LAND
The Shima Imperium verges on the brink of environmental collapse; an island nation once rich in tradition and myth, now decimated by clockwork industrialization and the machine-worshippers of the Lotus Guild. The skies are red as blood, the land is choked with toxic pollution, and the great spirit animals that once roamed its wilds have departed forever.

AN IMPOSSIBLE QUEST
The hunters of Shima's imperial court are charged by their Shōgun to capture a thunder tiger - a legendary creature, half-eagle, half-tiger. But any fool knows the beasts have been extinct for more than a century, and the price of failing the Shōgun is death.

A HIDDEN GIFT
Yukiko is a child of the Fox clan, possessed of a talent that if discovered, would see her executed by the Lotus Guild. Accompanying her father on the Shōgun's hunt, she finds herself stranded: a young woman alone in Shima's last wilderness, with only a furious, crippled thunder tiger for company. Even though she can hear his thoughts, even though she saved his life, all she knows for certain is he'd rather see her dead than help her.

But together, the pair will form an indomitable friendship, and rise to challenge the might of an empire.

I have been hearing a lot of flake about how Kristoff's Japan comes from 'whatever he could glean from Wikipedia.' But as far as I am concerned, he has gleaned quite a lot from it! The story brings a fresh aspect to post-apocalyptic fiction as it is, first and foremost, not based in Europe or America. The characters are very much alive and three dimensional. It's rather difficult to care about the novel's prickly heroine who seems to see everything in betrayal-coloured glasses and to whom; relationships are just another road leading to heartbreak. But as the story progresses and Kristoff lets you into Yukiko's head little by little, you come to realize her pain and why she is so devoid of affection and emotion, even towards her own father.

If you aren't sure about steampunk, or Japan for that matter and you're wondering whether to read this, then my advice to you is hurry up! It's a fascinating tale, rather slow to begin and with less action but a great build up for the next two books in the series which are on my top ten to-buy list.

I especially loved the epic proportions of the climax, a brilliantly played out battle scene reminiscent of Disney's Mulan - which is one of my favourite cartoons, growing up. Jay Kristoff has started down a new path in fantasy, and here's hoping that many more will follow giving us a whole new aspect of the possibilities and worlds in fantasy fiction for YA.
Dash Cooray, 8.8/10

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Griffins are supposed to be extinct. So when Yukiko and her warrior father are sent to capture one for the Shōgun, they fear that their lives are over. Everyone knows what happens to those who fail him. But the mission proves less impossible and more deadly than anyone expects. Soon Yukiko finds herself stranded: a young woman alone in her country’s last wilderness, with only a furious, crippled griffin for company. Although she can hear his thoughts, and saved his life, all she knows for certain is he’d rather see her dead than help her. Yet trapped together in the forest, Yukiko and Buruu form a surprising and powerful bond. Meanwhile, the country verges on collapse. A toxic fuel is choking the land, the machine-powered Lotus Guild is publicly burning those they deem Impure, and the Shōgun cares for nothing but his own dominion. Authority has always made Yukiko uneasy, but her world changes when she meets Kin, a young man with secrets, and the rebel Kagé cabal. She learns the horrifying extent of the Shōgun’s crimes, both against her country and her family. Returning to the city, Yukiko and Buruu are determined to make the Shōgun pay – but what can one girl and a flightless griffin do against the might of an empire?

In Stormdancer, debut author Jay Kristoff presents a world ravaged by pollution and corruption, where the ruthless greed of men and one man in particular, destroys the world around them. With precious ‘chi’ fuelling almost every aspect of the inhabitants of Shima’s lives, there’s no escaping its effects as it simultaneously poisons and enslaves the population and decimates the land used to produce it.

Kristoff’s dystopian, quasi-Japanese setting provides the backdrop to a coming of age adventure tale that sees sixteen year old Yukiko receive a brutal wake up call to the state of her country, her people and her almighty Shōgun. With mythology, history, war and suffering key features in Yukiko’s road to rebellion, it’s an engaging story possessing good pace and characters that are easy to root for as the protagonist, Yukiko, proves a strong, involving lead who manages to convince in her ideals without ever seeming naive. This first instalment in The Lotus War trilogy is very much her story, with the supporting characters doing no more than that.

The strongest and most prominent aspect of Stormdancer is Yukiko’s relationship with the prize her Shōgun, Yorimtomo-no-miya, so desperately desires – Buruu the arashitora (otherwise known as a ‘thunder tiger’ or Griffin). Something of an Asian steam punk Dr. Doolittle, Yukiko is blessed (or cursed depending on how you see it) with the ability to connect and communicate with other beings through her mind. Because of this, she builds up a unique relationship with the mythical creature that sees them sharing and absorbing various aspects of each other’s personalities and which culminates in some extremely enjoyable sequences. Buruu himself is a charming character, possessing a wit and dry humour that aligns perfectly with Yukiko’s more serious demeanour. It’s a shame that he is the only arashitora, or mythical creature at all, to appear in the book (bar one scene with a few Oni demons) as it would’ve been interesting to see his dynamic with others of his kind.

While steampunk is a key feature in Stormdancer, it’s a somewhat overbearing presence in the first quarter of the book causing the narrative to drag in the early stages. Though the story subsequently picks up pace, the intensity with which it follows Yukiko and the lack of exploration into additional characters ultimately leaves it feeling a little shallow. Kristoff’s linear story structure makes for a quick read but also contributes to a lack of surprise at the ultimate outcome as well as the unveiling of the traitor in Yukiko’s midst.

Overall however Stormdancer is a fun and entertaining debut that presents an imaginative, dystopian setting and which promises many more exciting adventures for Yukiko and Buruu.
Alice Wybrew, 7.2/10

This Stormdancer book review was written by and Alice Wybrew

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