Monday, September 17, 2012
Review: Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff
Tags: steampunk fantasy, Japanese, griffins, rebellion
Ruthless Yoritomo, latest in a long line of shoguns of the Kazumitsu Dynasty, rules the Shima Isles with a tight fist. Every day, more and more precious land is used to grow the blood lotus flower, which poisons the land, turns the sky red, and makes the air hard to breathe.
When Yoritomo orders Yukiko and her hunter father to find and capture the mythical thunder tiger for his personal enjoyment, she fears this will be their end. After all, how can they capture something that hasn’t been seen in a hundred years? But seeking the thunder tiger is only the beginning of Yukiko’s amazing journey, one that may influence the entire course of Shima’s totalitarian future…
I’m scared to write my review for this book. I never like writing reviews for the ones that blew me away. How can I do the author’s words any justice with my words? Couldn’t you just install some sort of webcam in my eyes and brain and witness for yourself the emotions and amazement I felt as I read STORMDANCER?
Don’t just this book by its first few chapters. Because STORMDANCER is set in such a different fantasy world than ones we’re used to reading about—one in which there is so much Japanese influence that the details are nearly debilitatingly overwhelming—it requires a lengthy and unwieldy exposition to get you into the feel of things. So much detail is given to descriptions of clothing, hairstyles, city layouts, machinery, and more that the story is nearly drowned in it all.
Is all this description necessary? It’s hard to say. Did I appreciate Kristoff’s attention to detail in the exposition later as the plot picked up? 100 percent. Kristoff picked the difficult task of setting STORMDANCER in a world that not only drew from the complex and fascinating culture of Japan but is also complete in its own steampunkish way. With all the details laid down as they were, and with Kristoff’s naturally cinematic writing, it felt like I was reading this story in high-definition, watching every character’s actions, every one of their subtle tics, on a big, flawless screen.
Cinematic and soaring as STORMDANCER can be, it is also one of the most human books I have read in a while. The characters in STORMDANCER exist in a world where to let down their guard is to court death, and thus we can only see one side of them. Yet Kristoff gives us smatterings of glimpses that hint at more to them than what they show the world: a stiff gesture from Lady Aisha, a too-long pause in Hideo’s words. How much more realistic can it get than these smallest of details, often overlooked except for when someone astute spots them and knows how much meaning they can convey?
Rather than burdening readers with a plethora of meaningless details, STORMDANCER gets us to care for the characters and their predicaments, so that all that we know about them we find valuable. And nowhere does this quality of STORMDANCER show itself more clearly than in the relationship that develops between Yukiko and Buruu. Appropriately wary of each other at the beginning, the two grow to form a human-creature bond that will rival the most famous of such bonds in literature. From a mindless creature who can barely speak in one-word phrases, Buruu becomes the greatly welcome comic relief in this book, delivering laugh-out-loud one-line observations that counterbalance STORMDANCER’s intense nature.
For, for all its fantastical imaginings, STORMDANCER is a deeply serious book with a message for humanity that is never more relevant than it is now. The Shima Isles, practically brainwashed by the Lotus Guild and ruled by the ruthless and corrupt Kazumitsu Dynasty, reflects the steampunk path our own world can take if we don’t act now to save the Earth from greed at the cost of our environment and self-gain at the cost of stagnant or declining living conditions for the general society. This is not a message that Kristoff directs only to a certain country or culture; this is one that applies for everyone. So read this. And heed it.
Is STORMDANCER for everyone? No. The first several chapters will catch those who are less patient with worldbuilding. Others might focus on the action and plot and miss the relevant message altogether. But I think that STORMDANCER has the potential to make a difference. And I want to be a part of it by spreading the word.
Cover discussion: Hands-down one of my favorite covers of 2012. Because it's self-explanatory.
Thomas Dunne Books / Sept. 18, 2012 / Hardcover / 336pp. / $24.99
Requested and received for review from publisher. Thank you so much!