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.
You wouldn’t believe how excited I was for this novel. The synopsis reads like someone looked into my head and took what I wanted to read and then wrote it.
Wait. Let me get my bearings because this “review” is going to be epic and rambling. Have a cupcake and some tea while you’re reading it. Ready? Okay.
Sometimes you come across books that you like absolutely and sometimes you come across books that you loathe absolutely. And if you are unlucky, you come across books that made you scream in utter frustration (true story) but also tickle your book-reading-bone (my bones are very talented) at the end. Writing reviews for the latter kind of books is very tricksy. You cannot eloquently state five different reasons the book sucks or doesn’t suck. You have to stare at the screen for ages (my eyes hurt) and then try to compose a written expression of your roiling feelings (roiling, I like that word, my feelings, they roil).
I had many expectations of Stormdancer and I feel that it could have met all of them had the novel not been so very verbose. Reading the first quarter was torturous and I’m not exaggerating here. I literally screamed at my Kindle because I was so frustrated. My frustration came from what seemed to me unnecessarily detailed description using terms that I am not familiar with about people who, while adding to the scenery no doubt, do not have any major importance in the narrative. (There is a glossary at the end but when you’re reading an e-copy, flipping to the back becomes complicated.) Every scene change is accompanied by lines and lines of dry description.
Before you tell me to snark off, let me tell you that I am well read. I have read lots of novels where the descriptions have been just as copious but there was a certain flow to them, a certain reason to them that I felt was lacking in this one. The author sacrifices plot and character development to scene description. The sad thing is, the descriptions are all well written and may have added more to the novel had they not been so plentiful. A fellow reader gave up on the novel because of this problem so I am certainly not alone with this problem.
The author sacrifices the momentum that is finally building to drive the story forward with yet more description and really, I was almost at the end of my endurance by then. Someone tell him that less is more! Another thing that bothers me about this novel is the fact that despite the almost indecent (hur) overuse of the word “lotus” we are never really told why this lotus is bad. What makes it so bad? Is it its chemical composition? Its mythical properties (of the evil kind) or what? There is a lot of talk about the war with the “gaijins” (foreigners or white people, I guess) but never really any explanation of the war and who the major players are (or perhaps there is and my oversaturated mind refused to absorb it). There are many gaijin slaves but they are flaunted in an off hand manner without any interaction or closer look. What is their purpose to the narrative besides changing things around and making the colonizer the slave for once? Is it to show the power of the country? Why are the gaijin slaves so plentiful? Are they prisoners of war or are they sold from their country of origin?
Another thing that bothered me so verrrrry much is the way “sama” is used in the novel. The glossary states that it a SUFFIX attached to a name or title to show respect to the person. However, most of the time in the novel, it is used as a noun. Like, “young sama.” Maybe it won’t bother anyone who is not familiar with Japanese but if you are familiar with the language it will be bug the heck out of you. Or maybe it’s just me being picky. I don’t know but it bothered me!
Now for the romance in the novel. It’s not going to win any awards any time soon. Not from me anyway. So, here’s the thing, as far as I know, Japanese people (you’ll have to forgive me for the assumption that the setting is a mythical Japan, all evidence points to that) do not have green eyes. Yet the samurai who features so prominently in Yukiko’s dream has green eyes. (She met him for half a minute and that was it, insta-lust, she didn’t even see his face, just his eyes and she was gone!) I initially got excited because hey, gaijin slave promenading as a samurai! Interesting stuff! Right? Wrong. No explanation given there but maybe it’s just me being extra picky on the details. Also, Hiro, he of the powerful green eyes, is the least developed character in the entire novel. I feel bad for him, I really do. All he did was move the plot forward.
Now that I have complained (almost) to my heart’s content, let me talk about the good things of the novel. The world building is not perfect but it is off to the right start. The character development is strong and I particularly like Buruu and the relationship he has with Yukiko. The dynamics between Kasumi, Akihito and Masaru was well written. The action sequences are well executed, tense and poised. You felt that you were there in the moment along with the characters. It was intense.
There are also scenes that are brilliantly and I mean brilliantly narrated. I mean, I can still call them up in exact detail with the atmosphere and the emotions intact. Kristoff creates a rich world with a complex and involved politics and history. I find his strongest points to be when he is narrating the action, when things are happening.
The gender politics in the novel was interesting until it wasn’t. Lady Aisha was given a motive and was, at one point, one of the most fascinating characters in the novel but it went nowhere. The Shogun was not well developed at all. I wouldn’t have minded that but since all the other characters were given such rich and complex characterization, the disparity was obvious and had to be noted.
Despite all my complaints, however, the book is not without its merits. It just may be that the writing style was not for me. All I can tell you for sure is that after 75% of the novel, the last 25% was the best part. No wait, that’s not true. There are scenes within the descriptions that kept me reading. I can’t tell you to check it out or give it a pass because this is one novel you have to make your own mind about. However, I will definitely be checking out the second one in the series because even though this book wasn’t perfect and it did make me scream at it, it also kept me intrigued enough to keep on reading till the end. Stormdancer is also very different from the typical YA fantasy in a good way.