Reading level: Adult
Hardcover: 336 pages
Publisher: Tor / Thomas Dunne
Release date: September 18, 2012
Series: Lotus Wars #1
Source: Review copy from publisher
Reviewed by: Jenn
The first in an epic new fantasy series, introducing an unforgettable new heroine and a stunningly original dystopian steampunk world with a flavor of feudal Japan.
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.
There’s a fabulous quotation from Patrick Rothfuss on the cover of the ARC that *hints* at the awesomeness that is STORMDANCER:
What’s that? You say you’ve got a Japanese Steampunk novel with mythic creatures, civil unrest, and a strong female protagonist? I’m afraid I missed everything you said after “Japanese Steampunk.” That’s all I really need to hear.
— Patrick Rothfuss
The great Mr. Rothfuss speaks the truth. I was intrigued from the moment I saw the cover and heard the words “Japanese steampunk” because, let’s be honest, it’s rare for authors to write steampunk outside of England, though there are some notable exceptions, like Devon Monk’s Age of Steam, some of Meljean Brook’s Iron Seas stories, and Philip Reeve’s Mortal Engines. (I’d recommend Beyond Victoriana for more information about steampunk generally or steampunk in places other in England specifically because my tiny list is far from exhaustive.) Most of the steampunk I’ve read has been set at least partially in England and I don’t think I’ve ever read any steampunk embedded in an Asian culture, let alone Japan, so I was beyond excited to give Jay Kristoff’s debut a try. The end result? I was completely blown away by STORMDANCER. Yukiko and Buruu’s story just about killed me because it was so intense and beautiful and epic. Jay Kristoff’s writing is Whedonesque. This is one of the highest compliments I can pay because I think Joss Whedon is absolutely brilliant. He writes beautifully complex female characters living in gorgeously imagined worlds where no one is safe and anything can happen. And you know what? Jay Kristoff does, too.
The author has also created a fascinating world. The blend of steam technology with Japanese feudal tradition is a rich landscape that lets you know you’re definitely not in Kansas anymore. I’m no expert on Japanese history but I feel like Jay Kristoff has really captured the essence of feudal Japan and made it even more vivid by adding steampunk elements like the airships and the technology used by the Lotus Guild. As a linguist, what I really loved was how he incorporated Japanese vocabulary into the story, using the Japanese terms for titles, weapons, creatures of myth, and more. It’s a simple but highly effective way to embed the reader in the flavour of the world, and it really lets you know that this is not your typical steampunk. Japanese mythology is also woven into the story and I just couldn’t get enough.
The characters in STORMDANCER are also wonderfully crafted. From Yukiko, our intrepid heroine, to the selfish Shogun, to Kin, everyone has a distinct personality. Everyone has layers and watching them peel back through Yukiko’s eyes made the story quite gripping, especially against the backdrop of civil unrest. Yukiko learns some hard truths, and some exciting ones, over the course of the novel, and you won’t be able to put the book down until you know what’s really going on behind everyone’s masks.
The take-home message? STORMDANCER is a gorgeous novel that sets the stage for what is sure to be an epic series. It’s beautifully written and full of evocative images and I can’t wait to spend more time in this world. Preorder your copy now if you love amazing storytelling and original worlds!