Dying is easy. Anyone can throw themselves onto the pyre and rest a happy martyr. Enduring the suffering that comes with sacrifice is the real test. p. 392
Title: Stormdancer, The Lotus War #1
Author: Jay Kristoff
Publication: August 21, 2012 by Pan Macmillan Australia
Format, pages: ARC, 438
My Rating: (more like every star in the sky)
A DYING LAND
The Shima Imperium is verging on the brink of environmental collapse; decimated by clockwork industrialization and the machine-worshippers of the Lotus Guild. The skies are red as blood, land choked with toxic pollution, wildlife ravaged by mass extinctions.
AN IMPOSSIBLE QUEST
The hunters of the imperial court are charged by their Shōgun to capture a thunder tiger—a legendary beast, half-eagle, half-tiger. But any fool knows thunder tigers have been extinct for more than a century, and the price of failing the Shōgun is death.
A SIXTEEN YEAR OLD GIRL
Yukiko is a child of the Fox clan, possessed of a hidden gift that 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.
Stormdancer is a richly detailed Japanese-inspired, steampunk fantasy, with splendidly real characters and a gripping plot that will keep you in its claws until the very last page. Jay Kristoff has written a debut like no other; I’m craving to return and venture across his wonderfully imagined Shima Isles and uncover more about The Lotus War with Yukiko and the arashitora – thunder-tiger – Buruu. You’ll be rereading Stormdancer before you’re even finished – and that’s the truth! Fans of Alison Goodman and Christopher Paolini will have another favourite to bow down to.
「何？」’What?’ you say.
And so I continue to sell Stormdancer to you by bedazzling you with my words and judgements (though I’m pretty sure you have already been sold on the premise and the covers). I am sure Benzaiten is looking down on me, making sure that I write this review the best I can with dedication and passion while venerating Jay and his debut Stormdancer. Jay Kristoff: The Newest Shinto Deity.
Yoritomo-no-miya, Seii Taishogun of the Shima Isles, woke up one morning and demanded a griffin. And yet thunder-tigers are extinct are they not, like the giant sea dragons and the yokai beasts? Extinct from the lotus fumes that poison the land? But when a Lord has a dream, a vision, it’s always precisely accurate isn’t it?
‘I have seen myself riding amongst the thunderclaps astride a great arashitora, leading my armies to war overseas against the round-eye gaijin hordes. Like the Stormdancers of legend. A vision sent from mighty Hachiman, the God of War himself.’
Masaru, leader of the Kitsune (Fox) Clan and the hunt master, is ordered to go find and capture a thunder-tiger; even he believes they are alive no more. His daughter Yukiko journeys along with him. With determination and strength they capture an arashitora, but it all goes terribly wrong when their skyship sets aflame and hurtles to the ground. And what Yukiko does sets the wheels of this complex story in motion.
I’m struggling to find the right words to perfectly detail everything I loved about Stormdancer – even with Benzaiten, Shinto Goddess of words and “everything that flows” watching down on me. Not even saying, ‘I disliked not one thing!’ will be sufficient enough.
There are many stars in Stormdancer, but the main one is our heroine Yuikiko. There’s not one thing wrong with her… as in: she is totally flawed and real – as are all the characters. She yearns for answers when things don’t look right. And although she hates her father for his drinking problems and blames him for leaving her mother as well as practically everything that goes wrong, she still longs for the day to be reunited with him when they separate from the skyship disaster, even if he’s dead. She has a past that haunts her, a past that has made her stronger and ever more determined to make things right in every domain possible: on a personal level as well as for all things living. Her tenacity is one to admire. Then you get to her friendship with the arashitora, in which she names Buruu after her long gone dog.
She remembered the wolf coming down from the mountain with a belly full of hunger, so many winters ago. She remembered the friend who rose to defend her, to save her life without having ever been asked. The sense of safety she felt when he was nearby. Her protector. Her brother.
’Then I will call you Buruu.’
This relationship is important and it’s the most real relationship between man and beast that I have ever come across, far more superior – in my eyes – than Eragon and Sapphira. You long for a relationship like it, regardless if it involves an animal or not. The connection between Yukiko and Buruu is unique: at first Buruu talks short and sharp, in single words or concrete nouns like all toddlers do in their earlier times. But as the story goes on and Yukiko and Buruu grow and mature together, his speech becomes more logically complex as well as Yukiko receiving primal and bestial thoughts from Buruu, as if they were one. At first their interaction is wounded due to the previous circumstances (like the caging of Buruu and the …. I’ll leave that for you to gasp at when you read). Yet there was one special moment when they’re in a cave trying to get some rest that begins the bond between the two – and it is awww-worthy to the nth degree.
Occasionally, he would glance over at her and watch her curled in her miserable little knot, shivering uncontrollably. … At last, he drew one great, deep breath and sighed; a bellows that sent the dry leaves skittering across the cave floor. Yukiko watched as he wordlessly lifted his wing, inviting her closer. She blinked and stared for a long moment, meeting the even gaze of those bottomless eyes. Crawling across the stone, she snuggled down beside him, wrapped in the tremendous heat radiating from his body. He folded his wing about her, a blanket of down and sweet warmth tinged with the scent of lightning, the smell of blood. She could hear his heartbeat beneath inches of pale, velvet fur.
’Thank you, Buruu.’
‘QUIET NOW, MONKEY-CHILD. DREAM.’
Isn’t that just so effing adorable and touching? I wish there were arashitora’s at the pet store. I would so purchase one no matter the price just so that I could have this same moment that Yukiko had. And with this bond comes an extra pair of eyes and sense when it comes to Yukiko’s feelings and affection towards the two love interests: Kin, a Lotus Guildsman/Artificer, and Hiro, an Iron Samurai with ’sea-green eyes.’ I fell completely in love with both relationships: one is slow to evolve and develop, with that “one” being timid to express his feelings, and the other that is quite the opposite – both as real as any relationship in reality. You will not be able to choose between the two; it’s fact. But one will ultimately be the “real” thing. Sure to make your smiles turn into frowns, your swooning sounds into screams of fury. Yes, you read me right!
I forgot to mention: Buruu even gets a chapter to himself. YES! How incredibly awesome is that?
Don’t want to say much on him, but Yoritoro is such a twisted villain that you are going to love and despise at the same time. One of the greatest villains in Young Adult I have come across (although Stormdancer is actually being published by an adult imprint in the US).
The Shima Isles, The Shima Imperium and The Lotus Guild are all characters in and of themselves. They create the setting: the red skies, the lotus-covered land that goes on and on and on, the smoky atmosphere, and the smell and taste of 血 (chi – ‘blood’ in Japanese) and 鉄 (tetsu – iron) in the air. You have the oppressed population, victims to the “toxic” fumes of the lotus, and the ones doing the oppressing, the Guildsman and higher citizens who wear the robotic suits to protect themselves every second. Such a spectacular demonstration of an imbalance of power in society. I can go on and on and on about the setting and the Japanese culture and inclusion of the Shinto Deities which is richly detailed, but you should just experience Jay’s words and imagination yourself. Knowing that I have two more books, two more times to be thrown into this world, I am beyond euphoric – maybe we can demand for more stories in this world. Stormdancer is up their with my greatest fantasies. There’s so much action and adventure that you’ll not want it to stop for fear that it will be the last moment in the book. First-class read with first-class and compelling writing.
Something I like very very very much is that THERE IS NO CLIFFHANGER! It is a well-rounded individual book that so happens to have two books to follow continuing Yukiko and Buruu’s legacy. Stormdancer concludes with a fist to the air – literally. It is resolved and I respect Jay highly for doing this. I loathe cliffhangers; Jay’s picture has now been plastered to my wall so that every morning when I wake up I can flatten up against the wall and pretend to be giving him a great big bear-hug. Or a peck on the forehead.
I am sure there is a lot more quotes and details I can include in this review, but have I bedazzled you enough yet? I could keep on going but I’m aching all over – I’m having so much fun writing this review. I want to say EVERYTHING! But there’s still three more months to go until Stormdancer is published and I want you to experience the sheer wonder of it as much as I did. Looking forward to hearing all your thoughts on Stormdancer and hopefully we can together get on our knees until the sequential books come out. So while I wait, I will be happily rereading and marking every page from beginning to end like a passionate English or Literature student at school. Jay what have you made of me????
OH YEAH! AND SOMEONE PLEASE GIVE ME A CHAINKATANA ALONG WITH THE THUNDER-TIGER?! Yours sincerely, Braiden. God of Nothing.