Jay Kristoff
Stormdancer Cover



The praise surrounding this book focuses almost entirely on its Japanese steampunk setting. This is certainly a unique setting, considering how often the genre is set in North American or European societies and it's a refreshing change to read something that ventures so far from the typical. It just goes to show how desperate we are for books that don't fall back on what has come to be the standard, even in scifi and fantasy where writers ought to be using their imaginations to give us so much more.

Unfortunately, it almost feels like the author is obsessed with showing just how much he knows about ancient Japanese culture and mythology and the way of the samurai, particularly at the beginning of the book. A lot of the information--names of attire and weapons in particular--end up feeling like a list unpacked from a Wikipedia entry and clumsily poured into the setting. Fortunately, this settles down somewhat after the lotus polluted city of Kigen is introduced, but, with my limited knowledge of Japanese language, I did find the (over and perhaps improper) usage of certain words rather jarring.

None of this was enough to deter me from enjoying the story of a young fox clan hunter who joins her father on the Shogun's mad quest to capture a mythical arashitora that will lead him to victory in the war against the gaijin. Influx of Japanese terms aside, Kristoff's steampunk society, with its Guildsmen in their clanking suits and chainkatana wielding samurai is certainly a site to imagine, and he does well with the details of both scenery and action, including an incredible battle between man, machine, and monster.

But at the heart of the story is a girl and her thunder tiger, a relationship that I was pleased to see develop. This relationship is counterbalanced by her estranged relationship with her lotus-addicted father, once a great hero whose name still carries weight, but not so much to a young girl who doesn't quite understand the sacrifices her father has made for her.YA can be very hit or miss with me, but Kristoff hits the right balance of stubborn teen and responsible young adult that pleases me, and, while there is a romance subplot, it did not feel shoehorned in as so often happens in YA. In fact, the romance was only a means to an ends, with the real relationship being focused on Yukiko and Buruu, the arashitora.

I really liked the way the story is initially hyperfocused Yukiko and on the issues within Kigen, but branches off to introduce the greater issues at stake because of the Shogun's rule. The war with the gaijin is certainly a big thing, but it remains nebulous, with the end of the book promising to go far deeper in what is happening at the homefront, while still implying that there could be a threat looming in the distance. In other words, I'm definitely planning to read the second book in the series to find out what happens next, not just for Yukiko and Buruu, but for the Lotus Wars as a whole.