Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff – Book Review
Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff is described perfectly through the blurb written by Patrick Rothfuss: “What’s that? You say you’ve got a Japanese steampunk novel with mythic creatures, civil unrest, and a strong female protagonist? I’m afraid I missed everything you said after ‘Japanese steampunk.’ That’s all I really needed to hear.”
Jay Kristoff has written a book that takes place in a pseudo-Japan nation of islands known as The Shima Isles. It’s technology and advancement pitted against the spiritual world and creatures with a young girl protagonist who holds the key to saving the nation from destroying itself.
What’s perhaps the most refreshing about Stormdancer is Jay Kristoff’s decision to move the steampunk genre away from Victorian London and to a Japanese counterpart. I was often reminded of movies such as The Last Samurai as the noble samurai battle ideologies with the ever-modernizing world.
Yukiko’s relationship with the arashitora, half tiger and half eagle Spirit creature, is what you’d expect after reading the book synopsis. The arashitora is no mere beast of burden, a glorious steed to be ridden into battle. Instead he is a partner and a fully realized character in his own right.
The Guildsmen and the Guild itself is the heart of the steampunk for Stormdancer. Using the poisonous Blood Lotus plant, the Guild refines the plant into Chi, the fuel and power supply for skyships, Guildsman power armor, and all manner of other devices. Despite the power of the Emperor, and his power and influence is very real, the Guild still holds enough power to be only a step below the Emperor himself. Often giving them license to do as they see fit, lest they cut the flow of Chi and halt the ever-growing industry.
The ever-moving engine of advancement is at the heart of the novel, as we witness first hand the devastation against nature the production of Chi is causing, angering the spirits in the process. Giant iron veins cover the surface, pumping Chi to the main Guild-operated refinery, while the Blood Lotus plants poison and blight the earth with each blossom. Meanwhile more and more people are sent to the woods with buzzsaws, cutting down the trees to fuel the factories. The land has been poisoned so much that the Shima Isles is forced to continue their war across the sea against so-called savages.
The most gratifying aspect of Stormdancer lies in its characters. Yukiko is a girl that’ssixteen, one who’s in a complicated relationship with her drug-addicted father, torn between her duty and what she knows is right. Her relationship with the green-eyed samurai is believable and as a reader your heart goes out for the girl as the relationship takes its ups and downs.
The arashitora, the griffin that plays a predominant role in the plots advancement, is another interesting character and you quickly realize that it is no mere beast. Instead it is a fascinating creature of honor and dignity, child to the God of Thunder and Lightning.
Kinslayer is due out this September in 2013 and it is one of my most anticipated books of the early fall season. Do yourself a favor and grab Stormdancer and get caught up before book two is released and enjoy the wonderful oriental steampunk that Jay Kristoff has crafted for us. Stormdancer is a story about myths being reborn, of rebirth, and honor as much as it’s a fun, engaging story for anyone that is looking for a novel that breaks from the stereotypical Middle Age Europe mold that plagues so much of the genre.