Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff

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Title: Stormdancer

Series: The Lotus War #1

Author: Jay Kristoff

Genre: YA fantasy, steampunk

Rating: ★★★★½

In short: evocative prose, insanely original ideas, and fast-paced action

Warning: some spoilers ahead.

Goodreads: 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.

For a moment, let’s take a look at the wise words of Patrick Rothfuss, bestselling author of The Name of the Wind:

What’s this? A Japanese Steampunk novel with mythical creatures and a strong female protagonist? Yeah, I’m all over that. Though honestly, you had me at “Japanese Steampunk.”

Yeah, I’m with you there, Patrick. Stormdancer is fantastic, filled with the kind of descriptions that will leave you sobbing, and so much fantasy nerdisms that you will die. But you will die sobbing happily. It’s set in a Japan-esque island country called Shima, where the entire country essentially runs on fuel from lotuses. This means flying ships that run on lotus fuel and also air that’s literally choking with pollution. The use of fuel and the machines are all under the careful control of the Guild, who are a group of people that wear metal suits around all the time, and are like engineers. Except very creepy engineers.

The main character of our illustrious tale is Yukiko, the daughter of the Shōgun’s (basically the emperor) chief hunter. Yukiko has the ability to commune with animals in her mind, which is a dangerous ability in Shima, since the Guild goes around executing people like her. And then *dun dun dun* Yukiko, along with her father and two other awesome hunters, are sent on a quest by the Shōgun to capture a thunder tiger, which is a kind of griffin. The problem is, thunder tigers are extinct, but to fail on their quest is to basically commit seppuku. Of course, as the supremely spoilery blurb will tell you, Yukiko winds up alone with the thunder tiger and nowhere to go. The rest of the story is Yukiko and the tiger, Buruu, bonding and discovering the dark secrets of the Guild.

The most experience I’ve had with Japanese is Memoirs of a Geisha, which I probably should not have read at the tender age of thirteen. I’ve had a teensy bit more experience with steampunk, but not much there either. Stormdancer manages to combine fantasy, steampunk, and folktales effortlessly, and the wonderful cast of characters definitely helps. I did find the descriptions a bit tedious at times, flowing for pages on end—thankfully not Lord of the Rings level descriptive—but one thing that excessive descriptions prevented was the good ol’ inadequate world-building charge. As someone who doesn’t mind endless descriptions, it didn’t bother me too much, but I think, from Goodreads reviews, it did annoy some others. That’s subjective. The vivid detailing made sure I never felt like I didn’t understand the world of Stormdancer, which, to me, is a bigger problem than long descriptions. Also—let’s talk about Buruu and Yukiko because that is the most adorable friendship ever. Thank you, Jay Kristoff, for allaying any concerns I had about bestiality.

And the emotions, ooh. Because that’s what good descriptions do to me, they make me cry. Not just because they were so good, but because the emotional scenes came through so very clearly.

Just read it.

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