Monday, September 17, 2012

Review: Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff

The Lotus War, Book 1

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.

Similar Authors
Christopher Paolini
Robin McKinley
Patrick Rothfuss

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!


  1. This is going to be on my list of books to buy in hardcover or on my e-reader for Christmas. Because, though some bloggers have hated it, your endorsement and appreciation of the world building (which sounds similar to my appreciation of McKinley's PEGASUS), not to mention the Japanese influence that has me going OMG, makes it sound awesome. :) Thanks for the excellent review, Steph.

  2. Steph, I am SO glad you enjoyed this one! I had such a tough time writing my review for this too as it was just phenomenal, but your review definitely did it so much justice! Yukiko was such a kick-ass character and her relationship with Masaru just about broke my heart. Buruu was, of course, AWESOME and I loved the slow manner in which Kristoff developed the friendship between those two. Seriously, he has got TALENT! I can't wait for Book 2 now! Incredible review, Steph! :)

    Ivy Book Bindings

  3. I disagree strongly. I like worldbuilding, but Kristoff's was clumsy. And I'm turned off by the fact he set the novel in quasi-Japan but didn't learn much about the real Japan in order to inform the setting.

  4. I have been drooling over this book ever since I first saw the cover. It is just breathtaking. And that premise... What's not to like? POC! Mythical creatures! A kick-butt heroine facing off against a corrupt government! Yes, please.

    Reading your glowing review makes me want to snatch it up even more. I was utterly spellbound by JELLICOE ROAD and CODE NAME VERITY, and I have no doubt STORMDANCER will be the same way. Thanks for all of your thorough, insightful reviews, Steph! They're wonderful :)

  5. I've heard complaints about the slow, detailed beginning. I still am interested in this book -- it seems like something different enough to give it a try. I really enjoyed your thoughtful review.

  6. There has been such an overwhelmingly positive review for this book. I definitely need to pick this book up. It's totally understandable that there would be a slow beginning, high fantasies tend to have long, detailed explanations in the first 100 page or so to create a dark, beautiful world for the readers.

    Reading that Jay Kristoff puts these little details that hint characters' true feelings is just plain genius! There are so many flat characters out there or obvious ones. Having characters try to hide their true colors makes Stormdancer seem like such an extraordinary read.

    Definitely putting this on the top of my TBR list.

    Angie @YA Novelties

  7. I am so excited to read this book! It's been on my list of books to read FOREVER, and I can't wait to get my hands on a copy. It sounds AMAZING and I love the integration of Japanese culture.

  8. I was one of those readers who struggled with the beginning but I managed to keep going and really enjoyed myself.

  9. Cool. Great review. I'm looking forward to reading it even more now.

  10. Okay...SO intrigued by this book right now! I've heard that it's descriptive, and I usually like those- unless it's really unnecessary- now I HAVE TO SEE if it is!

    Awesome review- you got me excited now!

  11. I'm half tempted to download this one and read it right now. It sounds like the escape I'm needing!

  12. Hmmm. Great review, but not sure I'm hooked for myself. Will recommend to other readers, though.


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