Review: Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff

April 17, 2014

Title: Stormdancer
Author: Jay Kristoff
Publication date: September 18, 2012
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books (St. Martins Press)
Genre: YA, Fantasy, Steampunk
Rating: 
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.
Maybe after my plea to the higher powers in Book Wondereland in my previous post, one of them has finally taken pity on me. Because I couldn't have asked for a better book than Stormdancer to bring me out of my misery.

There are not many books that can suck you in so wholly and completely that you forget yourself. And there aren't many authors who can wed just the right words with each other, so that as your eyes read their words, your mind conjures a painting of them so vivid that you can almost reach out and touch it because it feels so real... you go through the whole gamut of human emotions as you get drawn into the world between their words. (Am I being too poetic now?) Such authors are few and far between and when you find them, cherish them.

That being said, I cant believe I took so long to read Stromdancer! Stormdancer (I love the name) first came to my notice in the days leading up to Kinslayer's release, but I never gave it a second glance, because the cover made it look like some anime book (just kill me, somebody). Then it came back under my radar some months ago, and I decided to give it a try. I never got around to actually reading it until a few weeks ago, though, because from the reviews I could see it was going to be brilliant, and I wanted to be able to give it my full attention when I read it, something I couldn't do at the time because I was swamped with college stuff. What I'm trying to say is, I cant believe I postponed reading this book for so long! Gah! I can be such an idiot!

Stormdancer brings together three genres that are very distinct in their own ways (not to mention difficult to write): Fantasy, Steampunk and Dystopia, with a bit of mythology, Japanese setting and a kickass female protagonist thrown in for added bonus. Kristoff's world is intricate in it's conception, with an impressive amount of detail and authenticity. The detailing does make the start a bit slow, but then that's quite understandable, and I didn't really mind it, as I think a solid world building is essential to the experience of reading. Stormdancer is set in a world with polluted red skies, with soil that is getting poisoned, slowly killing all habitation, and making the place unlivable. It is a land of hard driven people, teetering on the edge of a rebellion, held back only by the mechanical power of the Lotus Guild and their Shogun. Then one day, Yoritomo, the all powerful Shogun of Shima, gets a dream of riding a thunder tiger (a griffin), and sends his master hunter, Masaru, on a quest to capture one. Now everyone knows the mythological creatures have abandoned their people because of the havoc wrecked on the land by planting lotuses, but you cant tell that to your Shogun, so Masaru and his daughter, Yukiko, set out on an impossible quest. But to their shock, they do spot and capture an Arashitora (stormtiger/thunder tiger). By a twist of fate, Yukiko and the griffin end up stranded in a dangerous forest, wounded and distrustful of each other. From then on, both their lives change, and they discover truths in the forest that challenge everything they've believed in so far, setting them on the course of a new destiny.

The best part of Stormdancer was the bonding between Yukiko and Buruu. The bonding of the two minds is so gradual and so beautifully imagined that you cant help but fall in love with them both. The only time I remember feeling so strongly about a human-animal (for lack of a better term) bonding was with Eragon & Saphira, and this relationship tops that by a mile! At first, Buruu is hostile and wild, owing to his crippled wings. But then, when they are forced to depend on each other in their solitary state, they begin to trust and love each other, each complementing the other perfectly. Their conversations make for some very funny reading, what with Buruu's unfiltered thoughts and reactions to everything. His thoughts develop from being staccato bursts of impressions to fully formed sentences with insightful observations. Honestly, I love Buruu, and he's my favourite character in the entire book. If I could just cuddle him and stroke his feathers, I would.
WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?
Shhh.
YOU ARE TALKING TOO MUCH TO HIM. TALK TO ME.  
ENOUGH NOISE. STAND ASIDE. I WILL GUT HIM. 
Buruu stepped forward, a low growl building in the back of his throat. Yukiko glared at him over her shoulder, refusing to move. 
We can’t kill him like this.
AH. YOU WISH TO LET HIM STARVE, THEN. SLOW DEATH. FITTING. 
No, I think we should bring him with us.
Buruu blinked, cocked his head to one side. 
TO EAT?
"Arashi-no-ko," she heard them whisper.
She could feel Buruu frown in her mind, puzzled by the word's shape.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN?
She smiled, embarrassed, turning her eyes to the floor.
Storm Girl.
His pride warmed her insides.
I LIKE THAT.
Yukiko is definitely one of the best female protagonists ever. The character arc that she goes through is simply amazing, transforming her as a person. Yukiko is no ordinary girl, having endured losses close to her heart at a very young age, and practically raising herself, thanks to her father's negligence. She nurses a quiet rebellion in her heart against the atrocities she sees, but knows that to speak out would be synonymous with death. And for all intents and purposes, she is quite alone in her world. But all that changes when she meets Buruu. Suddenly there's this thunder tiger in her head having an imposing character of his own, with whom she forms an uneasy alliance. But then they become friends, and it's when they return to civilisation that we realise what perfect foils they are for each other. Where Yuki is impulsive and frank, Buruu is wise and restraining. And where Buruu is mistrusting and savage, Yukiko soothes him and makes him understand things from a human's point of view.

One thing that makes Stormdancer stand out is that it doesn't make romance a focal point of the story. And I loved that! It was refreshing, and it allowed us to fully realise the relationship between Yukiko and Buruu without distractions. There is some romance, yes, but in the big picture, it doesn't really hold much significance, because of its short lived and superficial nature.

Stormdancer also acknowledges the role women play in influencing the sway of politics. They may not be in the forefront, but they certainly have immense power that they wield stealthily and in secret, controlling important decisions. Naomi (though we see very little of her), Mitchii, Kasumi and Aisha all have a hand in shaping this story into what it is. They are each of them strong and brave women, unafraid of risking and sacrificing their lives for what they hold dear.

You know I love prose. Well, Jay Kristoff managed to fulfill all my cravings for beautiful prose. Because he. Is. A. Genius. The few parts of the story that are written from the perspective of different characters are great! I love how when you start the chapter, you dont know which character it is, but he manages to capture the spirit of each narrator in the way the story itself is presented, and that's how you know. I also noticed that a significant part of the prose with descriptions contains more of impressions, conveying short snatches of what the narrator feels or sees, forming something like a stop motion animation in your head.

Oh, and if you want one more amazing reason to read this book (seriously?), JAPANESE WEAPONS! The names all run together in my head, so I cant name them for you, but the ones that stood out for me were the katana and the disc-with-sharp-pointy-edges things that you throw at an enemy. Aah. They are awesome.

Oh, and by the way, I changed my initial opinion of the cover. I LOVE IT TO PIECES AND I WANT TO KEEP TOUCHING IT AND STARING AT IT IN ALL IT'S RED GLORY!

Bottomline: For the love of God, please just read it already. You wont regret it. You'll come away with another unique heroine to add to your list of kickass females, and a newfound love for griffins. Because Buruu is awesome.

Snuggly Oranges: The story is just astounding. While I’m a fan of dystopias and read them quite a bit, this one just grabbed me so much more.

Gypsy Reviews: It’s a wonderful tale that showcases the bond between Yukiko and Buruu and standing up to what is wrong when you possess that power. The world that Jay Kristoff has created is mesmerising as he intertwines steampunk with Japanese culture and is a book I will never hesitate to recommend.

Nose Graze: This book is really a story about family vs. duty, the true meaning of honour, and about family. What does it take to forgive someone? There are many deep and intense messages in this book that are so beautifully intertwined with the story.

Holding Quote:
To be a servant can be a noble thing, but only as noble as the master served.

Our troubles are but mayflies, rising and falling between the turn of dawn and dusk, and when they are gone to the houses of memory, you and I will remain, Yukiko.

I wanted to write a book with heart; a book about a friendship that bloomed despite all obstacles. A bond that would grow to become a thing of legend in this nation on the edge of ruin—a friendship that challenged the might of an empire.

P.S.:
So this happened on Twitter yesterday:
Predictably, I went into book heaven and after the initial seizing up of my heart, there was a lot of squealing and me going generally berserk. See, usually, I tweet the author when I've really, really loved their book. I dont do it often, because I have a thing about socialising with people, and umm... after seeing Mr. Kristoff's picture, I was like, okay, he looks really serious and Zen and wise and he's probably going to be like, "Who's this random kid tagging me in her tweets?", so I didn't do that. As has been previously established, I have a very active imagination that often goes overdrive.

So then this happened, and I think it's really sweet of him to actually do that, especially when it was just a Goodreads update. How cool is that?! Also, I was obviously wrong about him, because his twitter feed is a laugh riot, guys!

In other related news, I CANNOT WAIT FOR ENDSINGER! Not on account of how awesome Kinslayer is and how I cant wait for more, but because I'm holding back on reading Kinslayer (which I'm very apprehensive about, because that title does not seem to bode well from any angle) until Endsinger's release date is closer so that I wont be completely slayed by my thirst for more of Kristoff's world.

Why oh why oh why is September so far away?