Series: The Lotus War #1
Genres: Fantasy, Steampunk
Published by Macmillan on September 18th 2012
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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-worshipers 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.
Gaaaah. How to review this book? Reviewing books you love can take a long time but it’s immensely satisfying; reviewing books you know exactly why you didn’t like can be simple, and even cathartic. But reviewing the books that you did mostly enjoy but had some flaws that you aren’t sure how to feel about? Incredibly frustrating, because you want to air out all your feelings, but you also need to impossibly pin down exactly how you felt about the book without giving the wrong impression.
With that said, I want to start off with my assurances that I really did enjoy so much about Stormdancer. Some of the complaints I have about the book aside (well, they’ll be later on), I’m so glad I read it after reading some great reviews for it — they’re just so much about it that I’m glad to have experienced.
“LOOK AROUND. GAME DEAD, RIVERS BLACK, LAND CHOKED WITH WEED. SKIES BLEEDING, RED AS BLOOD. FOR WHAT?
YOUR KIND ARE BLIND. YOU SEE ONLY THE NOW. NEVER THE WILL BE.
BUT SOON YOU WILL. WHEN ALL IS GONE, WHEN THERE ARE SO MANY MONKEY-CHILDREN THAT YOU MURDER FOR A SCRAP OF LAND, A DROP OF CLEAN WATER, THEN YOU WILL SEE.” — Buruu to Yukiko
To me, one of the inescapable facts about Stormdancer that makes it so great is how it just feels so much like a story that unquestionably needs to be out there in the world. It’s a little bit indescribable, really. You know those books that you finish and think, why is this published, really? Never did this cross my mind when reading. If I were the editor or agent who was reading Stormdancer as a manuscript, I would’ve immediately found my assistant and yelled, “Get me Jay Kristoff on the phone!”
Stormdancer just feels like this rich, epic tale, fully-formed and imagined, that I somehow can’t believe wasn’t already in existence until Kristoff created it. I think it’s a mix of a lot of things: the Japanese mythology come to life, the use of Japanese words and hints of its ancient culture, and the incredibly seamless world building. A lot of time (and a glossary in the back) is dedicated to transporting the reader to the Isles of Shima, and it pays off. I feel like I really know the kingdom of Shima inside and out, and that I could tell you how everything in its society works.
Yet I won’t sugar-coat it — the beginning was really slow going, and I was tempted to DNF. There’s an action-packed prologue flash-forward to keep you turning pages until you reach the moment where it actually happens, but it’s tough going. Because I’m the kind of reader who has to know everything, I spent a lot of quality time with the glossary in the first part (eventually, I felt comfortable enough with everything to stop checking it). It’s great to learn so much about the capital city of Kigen and about Shima, but even after the “impossible quest” begins, I had yet to come across something that would truly make me want to keep reading. The power dynamics and the environmental issues were intriguing, but I barely managed to keep going on the promise of a legendary thunder tiger…
….a promise which delivered 110%. Seriously guys, Buruu is where it’s at. Why the kingdom of Shima worships anything else besides thunder tigers is beyond me.
“It was power personified. The storm made flesh, carved from the clouds by Raijin’s hands […] The hindquarters of a white tiger, rippling muscles bound tight beneath snow white fur, slashed with think bands of ebony. The broad wings, forelegs and head of a white eagle, proud and fierce; lighting reflected in amber irises and pupils of darkest black.”
He is proud, he is fiercely loyal, and he is everything. His abrupt and honest way of speaking and his banter with Yukiko is powerful, heart-warming, and hilarious. Trust me (as I trusted reviewers before me) when I say that Buuru is what brings this book alive and gives it heart. Enemies at first, Yukiko and Buruu form an unbreakable bond like that of siblings and would surely die for each other. Their unified fight for freedom is what drives this book.
“WHEN IT IS DONE, WE WILL FLY FAR FROM HERE. FAR FROM THIS SCAB AND ITS POISONED SKY.
WE WILL DANCE IN THE STORMS, YOU AND I.” — Buruu to Yukiko
But while I loved Yukiko and Buruu together, and the epic richness of the story, there were other things that held me back. Often times I felt like the writing wasn’t always as sharp and powerful as it could’ve been. Kristoff uses a LOT description in some of his passages — description that didn’t always flow easily and was actually descriptive to the point of distraction. My sister read it too, and she whole-heartedly agreed with me. I would read a few pages and then put it down, and almost forget to come back to it. I read this book INCREDIBLY slowly, which really isn’t my style. And even after the initial slowness of the beginning, much of the rest of the book never moves that fast, either. This is not a book to rush through, but rather to savor.
Some of my disappointment was also wrapped up in the romance. For most of the book it didn’t even matter much, which I was fine with. Then we got hints of a romance from two different guys. One was so see-through and cliche that I hoped it wouldn’t happen, and the other was quiet yet intriguing. But instead of being well-developed, I felt like the romances served more as plot devices (as another reviewer mentioned, and I truly agree with it).
What else can I say? Despite its flaws, I know I will eventually read the entire series. And I don’t think I’ll regret it, either. Something about the story and the way it is told is frustrating, but also incredibly compelling. A slow burn. I was just short of satisfied upon finishing the book, but I have my hopes that with the world-building set and the plot in full motion, the next two books can potentially jump right in and be faster, tighter, and maybe develop the romance better.