Review: Kinslayer by Jay Kristoff

August 10, 2015

Title: Kinslayer
Author: Jay Kristoff
Publication date: September 17, 2013
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books (St. Martin's Press)
Genre: YA, Fantasy, Steampunk
Rating: 
A SHATTERED EMPIRE
The mad Shōgun Yoritomo has been assassinated by the Stormdancer Yukiko, and the threat of civil war looms over the Shima Imperium. The Lotus Guild conspires to renew the nation’s broken dynasty and crush the growing rebellion simultaneously – by endorsing a new Shōgun who desires nothing more than to see Yukiko dead.

A DARK LEGACY
Yukiko and the mighty thunder tiger Buruu have been cast in the role of heroes by the Kagé rebellion. But Yukiko herself is blinded by rage over her father’s death, and her ability to hear the thoughts of beasts is swelling beyond her power to control. Along with Buruu, Yukiko’s anchor is Kin, the rebel Guildsman who helped her escape from Yoritomo’s clutches. But Kin has his own secrets, and is haunted by visions of a future he’d rather die than see realized.

A GATHERING STORM
Kagé assassins lurk within the Shōgun’s palace, plotting to end the new dynasty before it begins. A waif from Kigen’s gutters begins a friendship that could undo the entire empire. A new enemy gathers its strength, readying to push the fracturing Shima imperium into a war it cannot hope to survive. And across raging oceans, amongst islands of black glass, Yukiko and Buruu will face foes no katana or talon can defeat.

The ghosts of a blood-stained past.
For the first time ever, I'm about to write a review right after finishing a book. I usually wait for a little time to pass, so that I can process everything and think before putting pen to paper, in the interest of objectivity. But with Kinslayer, I highly doubt I will ever recover from the pain this book has wrought on my heart. So there is no point in me trying to be objective, because that is not going to happen.

Just saying, because if you're looking for an objective review, (as much as I appreciate blog traffic), I'd suggest you head elsewhere. 

Also,

There are NO spoilers ahead for those who have not read Stormdancer. Yes. I am a kind soul.

Before I read Kinslayer, the thing that first struck me about the book was its name - it stirred a sense of foreboding in me. Both in terms of what it might mean for Kin, and if I was wrong about that, what it would mean for and this kin that is being slayed. Well, I've finished and I still don't completely know what it means. I'm sure Endsinger will shed some light on it, so I'm not too bothered by it (usually I'm a real stickler for 'neatly tied ends').

Usually in a trilogy, or even a slightly longer series, the second book suffers. There is actually something called second book syndrome. And most of the second/middle books I read suffer from them. Kinslayer, though? Nope.

Kristoff lays some concrete groundwork for the finale, while at the same time not letting the plot suffer. There are things happening. Several things. All the time. And each SO INTERESTING. So much so that as the narratives switched, I found myself itching to know what happens next in the previous one, only to feel the same as the one I was reading finished. Kristoff's writing, as usual, is impeccable and I have no complaints whatsoever on that front. I was reading a hardcover this time (YES I GOT THE ENTIRE TRILOGY IN HARDCOVER!!! IAMECSTATIC!!!), and there were so many lines I wanted to highlight, but I couldn't use a highlighter like I would on an ebook, and I couldn't find my sticky tags, so I had to resort to bracketing them with a pencil. I just wonder how I'm going to find them again. 

Anyway... 

Kinslayer as a story belongs more to the secondary characters than the primary (Yukiko and Buruu). The pages are heavy with stories of Michi, the Kagé, and Hana, among others. I have so much admiration for Michi right now. At so young an age, the trials she's faced, the chances she's taken and the sacrifices she's made, not once, not twice, but every single minute of every single day, leaves me in awe of her. She is one of Lady Aisha's handmaidens. She could just as easily settle into a life of luxury and ease. But she doesn't take that path. Even when such a life is a hairsbreadth away from her, she resists the temptation, and the possibility of something beautiful, and reasserts herself as a Kagé. She is a wonder. Like I said, I love her.

There are also several additional secondary characters that are introduced (like the aforementioned Hana, whom I also completely love now), and their back stories are all so engaging and endearing and I kind of hate Jay Kristoff right now. I have a theory. He gives us more and more info about a character, makes us fall in love with them and empathise for them... And then he makes them suffer. And he watches, laughing in his throne, while we suffer with them.

Mark my words. Jay Kristoff is an evil, remorseless man.
Which is another thing about Kinslayer. It is simply filled with death and torture and bloodbath and knife stabs in your gut, over and over and over again. 
The one with the knife is Kristoff
Fortunately (I can't believe I've been reduced to saying 'fortunately' for a thing like this) I read Golden Son recently and that book was a worse bloodbath, so Kinslayer seemed relatively better, although my stomach did turn several times, and I was even on the verge of gagging once from the pain the characters were going through. Believe me. It is horrible and I have no words.

If there was anything that I wasn't very happy with, it was that I still don't understand the reason behind the term 'kinslayer'. I know who it is, and that there's obviously some unhappy history behind it, but other than allusions to what might have been, there isn't much else we learn. Its just that I don't see the point in naming a book, and then not explaining it.

There is a certain symmetry in Kinslayer, with the way it comes full circle with the character Kin, in more ways than one, and I loved observing that. More than anything, Kinslayer ends with a big question mark. There is a sliver of hope, yes, but the questions that are left unanswered in the end are such yawning holes that there is no way I can allow myself to hope that they will end well. It could go either way.

Bottomline:I am dead. I will rouse myself to read Endsinger, which I have no doubt will slay me too, and then I will probably be finished forever.