Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff

Posted on January 30th, 2014
Stormdancer by Jay KristoffStormdancer by Jay Kristoff
Series: The Lotus Wars #1
Published by Tor UK in 2012
Pages: 451
Location: Magic World
Mode of travel: Airship, Magical Animal
Buy from Amazon USA
Buy from Amazon UK
Griffins are supposed to be extinct. So when Yukiko and her warrior father Masaru are sent to capture one for the Shogun, they fear that their lives are over. Everyone knows what happens to those who fail him, no matter how hopeless the task.

But the mission proves far less impossible, and far more deadly, than anyone expects – and soon Yukiko finds herself stranded: a young woman alone in her country's last wilderness, with only a furious, crippled griffin for company. But trapped together in the forest, Yukiko and Buruu soon discover a friendship that neither of them expected.

Meanwhile, the country around them verges on the brink of collapse. A toxic fuel is slowly choking the land; the omnipotent, machine-powered Lotus Guild is publicly burning those they deem Impure; and the Shogun cares about nothing but his own dominion. Yukiko has always been uneasy in the shadow of power, when she learns the awful truth of what the Shogun has done, both to her country and to her own family she's determined to do something about it.

Verdict: Wow, that was … fun, actually!

Here’s the thing. On the one hand, I am a bit tired of books, films, tv, everything, where the plot is basically one damn thing after another, glands on overdrive, intellect in the bottom drawer and go for the jugular. On the other hand, I’m not going to criticize a book for doing what it manifestly set out to do.

What makes one ‘one-damn-thing-after-another’ book better than another is if the damn things are original, varied, well depicted and take place against an interesting backdrop. Stormdancer has that.

But first, the journey: I sometimes feel that I’m not talking as much about the travel aspect of books as I really want to in this blog. There is a journey in Stormdancer, a long unpleasant one (for the characters) in a stinking steampunk airship. Although it’s not really central to the book it exists for two important reasons:1) to depict the ruin of Shima’s countryside and 2) because there needs to be a significant distance between the two main environments of the book: the reeking metropolis and imperial court of Kigen and the wild mountains of Iishii. It ends View Spoiler » I really liked that part, especially as it’s the only time View Spoiler ».

The interesting backdrop: is an ecological and economic disaster of a totalitarian, imperialistic state called Shima whose ancestral culture slightly resembles that of Japan. To about the same extent as Middle-earth resembles Britain. Middle-earth has kings, Shima has a shogun. On Shima, they use Kanji, on Middle-earth they use runes. People on Shima have black hair and people on Middle-earth are often blond. A few legendary beings typical of Japan and Britain appear in the respective books. That’s about as deep as it gets though.

Shima’s Kigen City seems to resemble Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam more than most other places I’ve been. It’s forests might contain nominally Japanese essences but they remind me more of New Zealand’s primeval jungle (what’s left of it). I have heard that the version of Japanese they speak in Shima is rather different to modern Japanese. Actually, if Shima really has any common ground with Japan, it’s in the rather globalized world of anime. So maybe it’s not that original after all. But still cool. It even has some cool music to go with it.

The original, varied and well-depicted damn things consist of violent conflict at various levels and of various types, between individuals and groups, across class, race and species boundaries. Almost any kind of violent conflict you can imagine. A revolution is brewing – The Lotus War of the series title. It’s an inevitable fact that all books, or at least their characters, have an ideology, and this one has some interesting ideas about political violence:

‘Sacrifices must be made,’ said Kaori. ‘The people of Shima are addicted to chi. The system will not die willingly, it must be killed. Those enslaved will adapt or perish, like any addict denied his fix. But better to die on your feet than live on your knees.’
‘… you want to start a civil war?’ … Daichi shook his head….  ‘I want chaos. Formlessness.’
No more fear. No more regrets. Not for vague ideology or someone else’s notion of what was ‘right’. For the ones she loved. For her family. … All right then. Let’s start a war.

With plans like that, I expect nothing more of #2 of The Lotus War, Kinslayer, than that it should be a full-blown bloodbath. I expect I’ll get round to reading it in due course.

ArashitoraSome funny stuff: This is one of those books very obviously written by a guy masquerading in the form of a young woman’s viewpoint. I admit the phrase ‘I want a woman who can touch her ears with her ankles, cook a decent meal, and keep her opinions to herself, but they don’t exist either’ is now permanently engraved in my memory. Also the part where two young lads are spying on Yukiko as she strips off in the bathroom and the author tenuously rescues the passage from gratuitous voyeurism by having them discover something of (non sexual) significance to the plot as they’re doing it. It’s all too obvious that Jay Kristoff doesn’t have a clue what turns women on to men and he depicts View Spoiler ». I had a good laugh about it but perhaps he was wise to stick to making Yukiko’s primary relationship a platonic one with a non-human life form. Yukiko is a Boy’s Own Fantasy Kickass Heroine, not a Girl Power one. That isn’t necessarily a criticism but it is a point worthy of awareness.

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