Stormdancer (The Lotus War #1) by Jay Kristoff

Stormdancer is Jay Kristoff’s debut novel, and what a debut it is! If you’ve been reading the Ranting Dragon for any period of time, you’ll know that when we first saw the covers (US and UK) for this book we all went a little crazy. Then the genre: Japanese steampunk. The synopsis of the plot isn’t bad either.

Kitsune Yukiko is the teenaged daughter of the Shogun’s Master of the Hunt. Except since the widespread use of blood lotus and its destruction of the natural environment, there’s nothing left to hunt. Then word comes of the first sighting of a particular mythical creature in seven years: a thunder tiger (arashitora) has been sited over the last forest left in the Shogunate. Yukiko’s father is sent to capture the arashitora and bring it back alive, and she tags along. But does the emperor really deserve to ride a mythical thunder tiger when his people are starving in the streets of his capitol?

Fantastic writing
I know I’m a bit of a nut about writing style, but with some authors I really don’t care what they write so long as I can read it. Kristoff is well on his way to being one of that elite company. His prose is simply beautiful, and that mixes very well with the culture he’s writing about. Stormdancer is an original English language work, and there aren’t a lot of those that capture the essential feel of Japan the way Kristoff does. His simple elegance in description is something to be savored.

Incredible world
The world-building in Stormdancer is lovely. While Kristoff is relying on his readers having some previous idea of Japanese culture, it isn’t much. He explains several of the myths that are crucially important to the storyline, and it does help to have an idea who Kitsune the multi-tailed fox is. If you’re a Japanese culture aficionado, I’m certain you will catch a lot of subtext that I missed, but I don’t think that’s necessary to be able to enjoy this book. Yukiko is also a very relatable character, one who is intrinsically rebellious. While she sometimes does the right thing for not-quite-the-right-reason, she’s often conscious of why she should be doing what she’s doing. For this first book she’s only fifteen, and I am looking forward to seeing how she grows up.

This is a debut
I always like to be fair in my reviews and point out whatever little things I didn’t like. For Stormdancer, it really is nit-picky. I felt the pacing was a little fast and that Kristoff could have taken a little more time building suspense and exploring the different parts of the word that Yukiko travels to. Already in book one, I know that there’s more world hiding behind the scenes and that I’ve been hustled past something truly fantastic that I want to explore now, not in book three. Additionally, some of the transitions between some parts of the book are unnecessarily abrupt. With how well Kristoff’s mechanics are, I am hoping he will find some more finesse in that area in the future. (I told you, I’m picky!)

Why you should read this book?
I knew before I picked this book up that it was going to be on a lot of do-not-miss lists for 2012 releases, and after reading it I think it justly deserves a slot on those lists. Stormdancer is not only unique and ambitious, but it delivers on its promises. It’s enchanting in a way so few books are; it sucked me in and transported me to a world that is nothing like mine and yet I was comfortable and happy being there. I honestly can’t think of a single reason why you shouldn’t read this book. And if I need to tempt you further, I offer these two words: chainsaw katana.

About Janea Schimmel

Janea Schimmel
Janea is an avid fantasy reader who after college inexplicably found herself working in a library. She was the only one surprised by this strange turn of events. When not surrounded by books, she enjoys working on her own fantastical fiction (thereby restoring order to her universe by having a book nearby), as well as making music (clarinet, vocals, renaissance recorder), cooking, and honing various skills made obsolete by the industrial revolution.

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  1. I’ve read only snippets of this book so far, but what I did read makes me wince when I see what the author did to the Japanese language used in the novel. Painful. And I don’t doubt that when I sit down and read the whole thing, it’s the language choice that’s going to throw me out of the reading groove. I hear the story’s pretty decent, though, which might be the saving grace.

  2. I’ve heard some good things about this book, but as far as “capturing the essential feel of Japan”, it really doesn’t. There’s blogs and tumblrs full of dissection of Kristoff’s extremely bad Japanese. Any anime or manga fan could tell you he uses a lot of his Japanese speech fragments completely wrong, and if you’ve ever taken any lessons in the language, you can see he makes many, many more mistakes. He also mixes in some Chinese language in a way that even a country that draws as much from Classical China as Japan never would.

    There are also some cultural and mythological issues with his portrayal of Japan. In general, he seems to have taken a lot of his inspiration from anime and manga, and done little if any true research into Japanese history and culture. Research which honestly would not have been that onerous.

    In general, I wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone who has any real interest in, or knowledge of, Japanese culture.

    It’s not terrible for a debut, but there’s a lot he could have done to make it a better book, and to avoid the fairly significant cultural appropriation he engages in in Stormdancer.

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