- Hardcover: 324 pages
- Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books; 18th ed. edition (5 October 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1250001404
- ISBN-13: 978-1250001405
- Product Dimensions: 16.3 x 3 x 24.1 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 499 g
- Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
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Stormdancer Hardcover – 5 Oct 2012
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About the Author
JAY KRISTOFF grew up in the most isolated capital city on earth and fled at his earliest convenience, although he's been known to trek back for weddings of the particularly nice and funerals of the particularly wealthy. Being the holder of an Arts degree, he has no education to speak of. He is the award-winning author of THE ILLUMINAE FILES and THE GODSGRAVE CHRONICLES, among other tiles.
He is 6'7 and has approximately 13,870 days to live. He lives in Melbourne with his wife, and the world's laziest Jack Russell Terrier.
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A book that combines steampunk aesthetics with the ancient Japanese world of the samurai- can such a thing exist? Yes, and it’s called Stormdancer, the first book in the Lotus War series by Jay Kristoff, an award-winning, Australian author. Kristoff said that he first got the idea for this sci-fi/fantasy after a dream he had, and that’s totally believable. From the bleak setting to mythical demons, to iron samurai with chainsaw katanas, this book certainly seems like it could have come from someone’s nightmares.
The majority of the story takes place in a polluted world, half-destroyed by the production and consumption a plant called the blood lotus. Because of this flower, the sun is scorching hot and so bright you go blind if you look at it without goggles. The air is poisonous- those of means have expensive respirators, while others get by with dirty handkerchiefs tied to their faces. The poorest succumb to blacklung- a disease that spreads through your body, eventually causing a painful death. There are few animals left, and there are no pets- faced with starvation, their owners have been forced to use them for food. And if that weren’t bad enough, the blood lotus poisons the ground, making it impossible for anything to grow once the blossom has been harvested. Most of the story takes place in one of two settings- the Iishi Mountains, the last wild place in all of Shima, home to demons and the dreaded Kigen, who seem intent on destroying blood lotus fields, and Kigen City, the capital of Shima and center of the Guild, a group of engineers, priests, and businessmen who oversee production of the blood lotus..
There are multiple conflicts in the story, but the strongest are nature vs. machine, rich vs. poor, and man vs. man, with Yukiko vs. the Shogun being the strongest.
In the beginning, Shogun Yoritomo Kazumitsu, a cruel and heartless leader, commands his hunters to capture an arashitora, or thunder tiger. The creature, a griffin thought to be extinct, is meant to be a symbol of the shogun’s power, the thing that will ensure victory over a long war overseas with the gaijin. Masaru, the lead hunter, his daughter Yukiko, along with a sailing crew, two other hunters, and a guildsman named Kin.
They hunters go off to find a griffin, flying into a dangerous storm and manage to succeed in trapping the beast. But before long, the ship is struck by lightning, and a good deal of the crew, including Masaru, Kasumi (a female friend and fellow hunter), and Akahito (a brother-in-arms sort of character) are forced to abandon the ship in a lifeboat while the arashitora is still in its cage. Yukiko jumps from the lifeboat to free the caged arashitora just as the lifeboat is freed from the side of the ship and plunges toward the forest floor.
The arashitora, whom Yukiko names Buruu, becomes more than just a protector, as they make their way through a forest filled with demons and Kage, eventually meeting up with Kin, who also survived the destruction of the ship. Kin learns Yukiko’s secret by watching her and Buruu interact without speaking- she has the Kenning, the ability to speak telepathically with animals- but promises to say nothing as it would result in her death at the hands of guildsmen priests intent on destroying anyone who displays gifts like those Yukiko has.
With the help of some new friends, Yukiko, Buruu, and an injured Kin make it out of the Ishii wilds. Armed with new knowledge about her mother’s disappearance, and the war on Shima’s poor and the environment, Yukiko aims to take down the shogunate with help from Buruu. But will they succeed?
Overall, I liked this book. One of my favorite books of all time is Shogun by James Clavell, so the samurai theme is right up my alley. Stormdancer wasn’t jaw-dropping awesome, but I didn't expect it to be either, so it didn't really disappoint. The plot moves the reader quickly to the climax, which is satisfying, and I did start to connect and care for some of the characters. Others, I couldn’t care less what happened to them, and this was one of my complaints. I think a good book should develop the characters well enough that I do care what happens to them. Some of the action scenes were also a bit jarring. The description was heavy, but abstract, so sometimes it was difficult to get a grasp on what was going on. As a result, the images- especially some of the battle scenes- floundered in my head.
Ultimately, it was the premise of the story that captivated me, and it did that well enough that I’ll read the other two books in the series. I would recommend this book to fans of science fiction and fantasy, as it has elements of both. I would rate this book 3-4 stars. The ending was satisfying enough that I wanted to move on to the next book right away, which is a good thing in my book.
The story is reasonably well written, but I just didn't care for it a lot. I thought that the challenges faced by the protagonist were for the most part easily overcome. There was one scene that really bothered me and really threw me out of the story. [Minor spoiler: Our protagonist is found to have been lying to and plotting against the murderous overlord who kills people at a whim and yet he lets her go with a rant, a beating and doesn't even bother imprison to her in his wonderfully vile dungeons] The story goes the way you expect to and ends with a lead up to the next book.
It was just okay and I don't know that I liked the setting or the characters enough to want to follow the story further.
Kristoff spends the first couple of chapters taking the readers on a tour of this bizarre alternative feudal era Japan, called Shima, beautifully realized so you can easily visualize this ruined parallel world, He paints a shocking picture of mythical beasts co-existing with humans in a slowly collapsing environment.
The central character, Yukiko, is out for revenge against Lord Yoritomo, the sadistic warlord who controls all of Shima, responsible for the death of her mother and the imprisonment of her father. She’s aided by the mysterious outcaste Kin, and Buroo the arashitora (storm-tiger) a wonderfully snarky creature from the mists of legend.
There is also Hiro, the guardsman who loves Yukiko but is fiercely loyal to the Shogunate, and the Iron Samurai - part-mechanical warriors who are pretty much what you would expect to find in a Steampunk novel.
Both main and secondary characters reveal new shades every time we meet them. Despite this, the real star of the book is the Lotus Smoke of the trilogy’s title, that looms over the book as a fuel source, a narcotic, the source of Yorimoto’s power, and the cause of Shima’s environmental degradation. The smoke is genuinely disturbing in its ubiquitous influence, and leads to some creepy imagery throughout the book.
Sometimes, there is a piece of writing in a genre book that makes me admire it because it stands out among the rest. It happened with Mark Hodder’s “The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack”, where we saw Jack’s descent into madness as he tried to set right what he thought had gone wrong. In this book, it happens in the climactic battle between Yukiko’s allies and Yoritomo’s forces in Chapter 34, which made me feel like I was watching a movie.
“Stormdancer” is written with passion and a huge amount of attention to detail. The writing is lean, doesn’t waste a sentence, and I’m looking forward to Book 2.