BOOK REVIEW: Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff

Posted on July 31, 2012


originally reviewed at awritergoesonajourney

The Lotus War Part 1
Publisher: TOR
ISBN: 9780230762886
Release: August 2012

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 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.

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. But together, the pair will form an indomitable friendship, and rise to challenge the might of an empire.

When a new title is heralded as dystopian Japanese-inspired Steampunk Fantasy, that definitely catches my attention. Yet can it live up to such hype? Yes it can – easily!

Steampunk is one of the curiosities of the literary world. It either seems to work or it doesn’t. There does not appear to be anything much in the way of middle ground. Jay Kristoff’s debut novel has easily landed in the ‘it’s working’ territory.

The way Kristoff has made his novel work has been by creating something that is eminently believable. And while I am hardly an authority on Japanese culture, the little I know being more inspired by James Clavell’s Shogun years ago than anything else, I was never in any doubt that I was in an alternative Japan, where much of the power was indirectly held by a Guild whose insidious side effect of their technology has thoroughly impregnated this society. I felt a distinct sense of this novel’s setting describing our world in a not-that-far-off  future with the impacts of global warming, pollution and land degradation. In that sense, the dystopian aspect to the novel rings true.

The implications of political power are never far away. And like anything with a quasi-feudal setting, it is ripe with intrigue and rebellion, although in the end not quite where you expect it to be coming from. Yet even with that development, while aiding the dissenters, could it not cause even more difficulties in the longer term? Sadly, to find out we shall have to wait for subsequent instalments in The Lotus War trilogy.

If I was going to be critical of anything in particular, it would be that the bonding between Yukiko and the thunder tiger seemed to occur a little too easily, considering the earlier degree of the beast’s hostility. But misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows. [Oh dear Lord – did I really just go and quote Shakespeare? After high school I swore I would never do so again. Damn.]

While steampunk-inspired, Stormdancer is not just a novel for fans of that subgenre. It should appeal to fans of speculative fiction generally.

For me the ultimate test of a story is do I want to keep reading. And the answer is an unqualified yes!

Good one Jay

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