Author: Jay Kristoff
Publication Date: September 18 2012
So here I am at the moment I anticipated and dreaded equally – the final page is finished and I am digesting Stormdancer, the debut novel of Jay Kristoff. It was only after I finished that my dread level actually rose rather than fell; because now, not only is it finished and I have 12 months to wait before The Lotus War: Book Two but I also have to write the review… how do I summarise and explain Stormdancer, and do it justice.
Let me start by saying that I recently interviewed Jay, and by the time you read this the interview will be live and linked here somewhere, and I have spoken to him on Twitter. This is one extremely entertaining man, always capable of making me laugh; he has a unique sense of humour and an awful lot of character. All of which is channeled into this novel, his voice is certainly strong through these pages. Yes, he’s the author you would expect it to be his voice – I get that, but this is embodied very strongly. There were times as I was reading that instead of seeing the action playing out in my mind I would cut to Jay, tapping out the scenes on his laptop. I could see it in my head and it made me smile.
When I think Steampunk I generally think England in Victorian times, maybe this is just because my exposure has been limited , but that has certainly been remedied now. Stormdancer has been described as Japanese inspired dystopian steampunk, pretty big call I think you can agree; but this guy nailed it – totally!
Think feudal Japan and that’s where we’re based but as it’s Japanese inspired it leaves unfathomable room for poetic license; the ability to choose which parts of history and culture to use when creating Shima and which fall outside the world being created. I am not knowledgeable about Japan or its history so I couldn’t tell what was created and what wasn’t but the book definitely has a Japanese feel to it. Clothing, weaponry and at least some of the language is recognisably Japanese.
The Shima Imperium is a society built on a class system and the Blood Lotus, a plant that has a multitude of uses and is doing irreparable damage to the environment, and the society. The reliance on mythology is strong, though I think most of it is mythology of Kristoff’s making. These myths are well constructed, well fleshed and entertaining.
Kristoff built this world completely and convincingly from the landmarks to the people; the history to the mythology. This book is a perfect combination of it’s elements. From the oppressed society ruled by a tyrannical Shogun destroying the land and the citizens with pollution. To the machines created by the Lotus Guild that perpetuate the pollution and help enlarge the divide between the classes. Then there’s the fantasy; griffins, oni, the deepest hells and the Kenning, not to mention the gods. All woven together in a tapestry that is engaging, compelling and utterly mesmerising and at times a little gruesomely graphic.
The most enthralling aspects of this tale are the characters and the relationships. Yukiko is a teenage girl who has already seen a lot, and lost a lot, in her short years and now she spends all of her time trying not to let her father’s addictions make life for them any more difficult. Much as his current state disappoints her, Masaru is still her father and as such she loves him and looks back on better days.
Masaru is ordered by the Shogun to capture him a ‘thunder-tiger’, long since believed extinct, and so he sets off with Yukiko, his hunting partners and the captain and crew of a sky-ship on an impossible mission to capture a creature even he does not believe they will find.
Belief in the existence of the ‘thunder-tiger’ not withstanding they must undertake the mission and failure is not an option. What the Shogun wants the Shogun gets or the price is near unbearable.
The ‘thunder-tiger’ goes by a few names but I will stick with this one to avoid confusion. He is a wild and ferocious beast of breath-taking grandeur. He is left angered and injured by the attempt at capture, and more than happy to see Yukiko perish but her tenacity and logic sway him to help her survive. Her begins the relationship between girl and beast the sees them both grow and evolve, always learning from one another.
This relationship grows through mind-to-mind communication and a psychic connection that allows them to communicate freely with no fear of eavesdroppers, as long as their body language doesn’t give them away because Yukiko’s gift could be her undoing.
I could ramble all day and still not come close to doing justice to this debut novel so perhaps I should stop here and send you off to buy it for yourself.
Allow me to leave you with a few final observations first. Our heroine is a teenage girl, that age where it’s all about boys and love and all the gushy bits that go with it. Yukiko is in a position where she is affected by the young men around her but can’t let it define or rule her, the alternative could be rather dangerous!
Another thing that really struck me is the importance of tattoos in the tale. They are a status symbol, illustrating for the world to see just where you fit in society, and they are applied quite young. Tattoos have always played an important part in many civilisations through history and this one is no different.
A breath-taking tale filled with betrayals, secret plans and the relationships between father and daughter, and girl and griffin.