Genres: Adult Fantasy
Source: print ARC from Amazon Vine
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.
Japanese steampunk? Yes please. Steampunk is a genre I have a few hits but mostly misses in, but anything with Asian influences and/or subject matter interests me. This and how cool the author is (how an author behaves toward reviewers and other people really makes a difference to me) made me want to read this book so badly that when I saw I was getting a copy, I started jumping up and down and screaming. No joke, I really did. It was a little more excitement than it ultimately deserved, but it did deserve most of it.
Most of the cast is well-characterized, especially main character Yukiko and her father, who is the only family she has left after her twin brother died and her mother left them. There are a few things I still wanted from Yukiko’s characterization, like more insight into where her life was going before the fateful voyage to capture an arashitora/thunder tiger for the Shogun, but her evolution over the novel is both sad because of what she has to go through in order for it to happen and fantastic. Multiple characters are much more than they first appear to be and I loved the surprise of seeing who they really are.
Kristoff’s novel is well-plotted and carries a lot of strong themes, the price of change (as Buruu the thunder tiger puts it, it all boils down to how much you’re willing to give up to get what you want) and the need to protect the environment just two of them. The first half was rough due to some issues with the writing that I’ll detail in a minute, but once I got into the novel, I really enjoyed myself. An event at the end packs some good emotional punch, but considering the themes and how things were already going, I saw it coming and that robbed it of some power.
Why aren’t there more novels like this one? Seriously, this is a much-needed shot of originality into YA (though it’s more of a YA-adult crossover novel than anything else).
Most of my issues with Stormdancer lie with the writing. I have a very short attention span and though I’ve tried to correct it, it’s not something I can easily get around and it troubles me in daily life. In its first half, Stormdancer is heavy on detailing the world, getting down to the most minute pieces, and this clashes badly with my attention span. There are many people who love for their novels to be detailed down to the piece of lint on the back of someone’s pants, but I am not that kind of person. Minute detailing makes me skim and lose interest. The first hundred pages of the novel were a slog for me to read because of that.
Third-person narration is great. The way it opens up the world for greater exploration beyond one person’s mind makes me love it, but even that can have its downfalls. Stormdancer‘s third-person narration bounces in and out of several characters’ heads (I can count at least six off the top of my head, though Yukiko remains prime narrator) and third-party narrator has a distinct voice of their own. What troubles me about novels with this sort of narration is that when a line comes along that leaves a bad impression on me, I can’t be sure whether it’s the character’s thought or the narrator’s, and Stormdancer and I had that issue a few times.
You’re probably tired of hearing me harp on about the writing, but I’ve got just one more grievance to air out: guiding statements. They’re sneaky little things. They don’t seem like they’re telling at first, but they are. They’re also guiding you to feel a certain way rather than showing you the same thing and letting you come to feel a certain way about it yourself. These happen mainly in the first hundred pages or so of the novel and serve the purpose of setting up the world, but guiding statements really get my goat. I really don’t need to be tricked into feeling a certain way about something. If it is written right, I’ll feel that emotion anyway.
In the second half of the novel, there is marked improvement in every respect–even in areas where you thought it couldn’t get any better! Despite all my issues with the writing, the novel itself was great and I am hooked for the sequel. Bring on book two!