Friday, November 16, 2012


Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff

Griffins are supposed to be extinct. So when Yukiko and her warrior father Masaru are sent to capture one for the Shogun, they fear that their lives are over. Everyone knows what happens to those who fail him, no matter how hopeless the task.

But the mission proves far less impossible, and far more deadly, than anyone expects – and soon Yukiko finds herself stranded: a young woman alone in her country's last wilderness, with only a furious, crippled griffin for company. But trapped together in the forest, Yukiko and Buruu soon discover a friendship that neither of them expected.

Meanwhile, the country around them verges on the brink of collapse. A toxic fuel is slowly choking the land; the omnipotent, machine-powered Lotus Guild is publicly burning those they deem Impure; and the Shogun cares about nothing but his own dominion. Yukiko has always been uneasy in the shadow of power, when she learns the awful truth of what the Shogun has done, both to her country and to her own family she's determined to do something about it.

Returning to the city, Yukiko and Buruu plan to make the Shogun pay for his crimes – but what can one girl and a flightless griffin do against the might of an empire?
-Plot summary borrowed from Goodreads

Chances are, you will either love this book or dash it against your wall in a fit of rage. I happened to love it, which earned it a review here, so I'll try to talk about that first before getting to the caveats and addendums. 

This book was fun. And cool. And had lots of nifty things. The set pieces are amazing- Kristoff describes each new scene in such a detailed fashion that I really felt like I could see the whole detailed picture. There are just so many cool details here: the clan tattoos, the mostly familiar mythology (Oni, for one, which are pretty damn intimidating) but also new creatures (Thunder Tigers). Yukiko is a well-executed blend of kickass katana wielder and griffin-loving girl. The baddies are very, very bad and the world-building is exhaustive. Battles are exciting, relationships emotional, and Buruu is just fantastic. Here is an "interview" with him that won't give anything away. This was a world I really enjoyed getting to know and I'm eagerly awaiting the sequel.

Ok, now on to the controversial stuff. So, Kristoff borrows very, very heavily from Japanese mythology, fashion, music, military history, and language to build his fictional world of Shima. For many readers, the phrase "Japanese steampunk" will probably be irresistible. However, these are also the people most likely to take exceptions to some of the quirks in this book. Here are the biggest that I noticed while reading and subsequently looking at other reviews:

1. "Hai" is used as a universal substitute for "yes."
2. "Sama" is used on its own, not always as a suffix
3. Some concepts are used a bit cavalierly, like when Yukiko "throws on a light kimono"

If this list has you foaming at the mouth, just chill, and find a different book. It's ok. There's plenty of good stuff out there (although, sadly, probably not very much Japanese steampunk). These things didn't bother me too much, partially because I'm not an East Asian studies major and also because, look, it's Kristoff's world and it's not Japan so WHO CARES. It's very probably intentional- he never has characters refer to each other as "Chan" or "San," so I think he understands how honorific suffixes work and just thought he'd use "Sama" as a way to address some characters. No biggie. 

There are a few more criticisms I could make- the descriptions do go a bit overboard sometimes, and the plot is a bit slighter than I would like, but honestly? I don't care. It was still a fun read that left me wanting more and I would highly recommend this one despite a few flaws.


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