I recently read a book called Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff. It caught my attention because it’s Japanese steampunk and what could be more glorious than Japanese steampunk?—I mean seriously!
After reading it I have to give it 3 out of 5 stars. I liked it a lot, but there were elements that stopped me from liking it as much as I hoped.
Setting: The setting was fantastic! There’s rich, colorful world building, it’s something you can really sink your teeth into. The story is set in the Shima Isles, which would likely translate to Feudal Japan in the real world. But Shima has airships, Iron Samurai, and chainsaw katana. All of which is fueled by lotus flower, a plant which poisons the land and has turned the skies red. It’s a fascinating setting and one which I thoroughly enjoyed.
Story: The main character is 16 year old Yukiko. Her father is Masaru, the Black Fox, the Shogun’s Master Hunter. They are sent on a mission to capture a Griffin—a creature of legend, a Thunder Tiger, that is said to be extinct—for the Shogun. Failure means death.
To everyone’s surprise they find a griffin in the heart of a storm and manage to capture it. Masaru clips its wings to control the beast, but soon after the airship is torn apart by the storm. The crew abandons ship, but Yukiko can’t allow the Thunder Tiger to die like this. They end up stranded in the wilderness. Yukiko has an ability called the Kenning, which allows her to touch the mind’s of animals. She discovers that the Thunder Tiger has a very unique mind. Yukiko and the Thunder Tiger are forced to form an unlikely alliance in order to survive.
This is only the tip of the iceberg in a story full of corruption and intrigue.
Characters: I liked the characters. Yukiko’s character is forced to be the responsible one in her family, her father is a lotus fiend and makes a habit of smoking and drinking himself into stupor. Her relationship with her father is complex and interesting. She’s relatable and has strong potential. Yet I wasn’t entirely satisfied with her character arc. I didn’t feel like she did enough on her own, it seemed like she was always getting help from someone else and I wanted to see her stand on her own more.
There’s a cast of fascinating characters, many I became quite fond of, sadly most of them didn’t get as much page time as I would have liked.
Style: The author likes to paint a picture for the reader, sometimes this is a far more vivid picture than is necessary. The descriptions are often weighed down by elaborate metaphors and similes. While many of these helped add to the atmosphere of the setting, it bogged down the writing in places. The author also did a fair amount of character hopping. This doesn’t bother me as long as the changes are clearly marked, but there were times when I wasn’t sure who’s mind I was reading from. My final peeve with the writing was that during intense action sequences the author switched from third person past tense, to present tense, which was obviously an attempt to make the action more immediate, but I found it jarring and annoying.
Conclusion: I loved the setting and enjoyed the book, but not as much as I hoped. I have started reading the sequel and so far I’m enjoying it more than the first and I’m hopeful that it will rectify some of my complaints. Because I truly love the idea of the books and there’s so much potential there. So despite it’s imperfections I still encourage anyone who likes dark fantasy, steampunk, or Japanese culture, to give these books a shot.