Short interview: Jay Kristoff on his debut, Stormdancer

Every once in a while, word of a new novel reaches the fantasy blogosphere and generates a strong reaction. That happened with this Tor UK tweet about acquiring the rights to publish Stormdancer:

STORMDANCER – dystopian fantasy in steampunk Japan – griffins, a despotic Shogun, the most awesome fight sequences and introducing Yukiko!!

Can you blame people for geeking out over this pitch for Stormdancer, Jay Kristoff’s debut novel? What’s not to like about a book that has all that, right? I was eager to learn more about Kristoff’s novel, which is set to be published next year, so I sent him an email, asking a couple questions in hopes of getting more information about this promising debut. After interviewing him, I see only this one down side to Stormdancer: we’ll have to wait a year to be able to read it!

Here are Kristoff’s entertaining answers:



Congrats on landing a publishing deal. Can you tell us what Stormdancer is about?
It’s a fusion between steampunk and more traditional fantasy. I’ve been working on summarizing this thing in less than fifty words, so here goes (ahem):

The Shōgunate of Shima is verging on environmental collapse; decimated by clockwork mechanization and toxic pollution. Befriending the last griffin alive on the island, a young woman pits herself against the authorities in the hope of seeing her homeland saved, her family freed and the crippled griffin fly again.

Forty nine! Yessss!

Stormdancer will be the first book in a series; what will the series be about?
I can’t really expand much on the sequels without spoiling the first book for you. But the overarching themes of all three books will be rage against the machine, rebellion against corrupt authority, and the idea that sacrifice is necessary to curtail environmental depletion.

That said, I don’t want to sound like an author pushing some heavy agenda—these themes are all couched in a grand adventure type of story that will hopefully be a lot of fun to read. There will be some star-crossed romance that doesn’t turnout quite like it should. Armies clashing over smoking stretches of dead earth. Betrayals, plots, heroic sacrifice. And in the middle of it all, a young woman struggling to protect the things she loves—one of which happens to be a two-tonne griffin with crippled wings.

You have signed a three-book deal. How many books do you plan for the series, and does it have a name yet?
There will be at least three. Possibly more if I don’t make enough dosh from the first three to fuel my crippling penchant for Bolivian cocaine and pimped-out laptops.

I’m tossing around ideas for a series name atm. I haven’t quite found the perfect one yet. I suggested one idea, but my editors didn’t think “The completely fucking awesome chronicles” had the right ring to it.

The book has been pitched as Japanese Steampunk. That alone made me want to dance. Can you tell a bit about what the world will be like? What will the Japanese elements be like?
It’s nice to see people getting excited about the idea of Japanese Steampunk. I call it “yugepunk” in a desperate attempt to leave my mark on the genre scene (I am failing terribly). The great thing about writing in feudal Japan is that you get to ground the story in some familiar caste tropes from more traditional euro-centric settings, but then get to throw in all the grand mythology and flavor of the east—Shinto, the Code of Bushido, it’s all in there.

To be fair, the setting isn’t actually Japan (because they didn’t have, you know, griffins and stuff) but to say it’s “heavily inspired by Japan” would be an understatement. It’s a Shōgunate government, powered by combustion-driven mechanized technology. A group of monks in sealed habitat suits called “the Lotus Guild” oversee fuel production. Society is ruled by a samurai caste that wears mechanized ō-yoroi (samurai armor) and carries chainsaw katanas.

The important thing to note is that all this mechanization has come with a price; pollution from the fuel (called “chi”) and deforestation required for its production has wiped out most of the animal and plant life on the island. All the magical beasties (dragons, henge, kappa, etc) are dead or gone. Temperatures are soaring, snow is melting, and the Shōgunate is currently engaged in a war overseas to acquire more land to produce fuel.

Hmm, does that sound familiar?

Thanks a lot for your time. Is there anything else you would like to share?
Stormdancer will be out Spring 2012. It’s being published by Thomas Dunne in the States, Tor UK in the UK, and Pan Macmillan in Australia. In the meantime, I’ll be blogging about the process and other random bollocks on my website, and making even less sense on Twitter.

Thanks for taking the time to interview me!

About Stephan van Velzen

Stephan van Velzen
A 29 year-old Communications student, Stephan loves publicity and design, particularly web design. When he’s not designing websites, he’s busy being a total geek for fantasy. In The Ranting Dragon, he has found a way to combine these passions and discover a new love for writing too. Most of all, though, Stephan is just a crazy Dutch guy who enjoys doing things that people don’t expect.

View all articles written by Stephan van Velzen.


  1. Japanese-inspired steampunk? Count me in!

  2. Japanese-inspired steampunk? Count me in!

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