Initial thoughts: I’m fairly sure that I’m experiencing the definition of a “covergasm” with this book. I’m not kidding. Look at the colors and detail of it – from the heroine’s hair to the clouds and the level of detail of her sword and outfit. It’s…there are no words. Even the title, “Stormdancer” has quite the striking ring to it, and the thematic of the book promises a wonderful blend of steampunk meeting a Japanese themed-story with epic fighting scenes, conflict, family dynamic, betrayal, love, and the onset of war.
So the Book Gods have deemed me worthy of an ARC of this book. I have read it. So what do I say in response to it?
Bring on the second book, Kristoff. Bring. It. On.
I do have to say, in the initial stages of this review that I liked “Stormdancer” on an overall note. Probably not from point one to final point in its entirety, but there’s much about it that I came to enjoy, especially with reflecting on the journey in an overarching measure. It did feel like a journey of sorts – walking in the shoes of a multitude of colorful characters in their kingdom and progressing into an epic battle against a tyrant of a leader, with many crosspoints of plot between. I couldn’t help but feel that, as I was reading this, it felt like watching an anime series. Starting off with a great battle scene, transitioning to sort of a slice of life scenario where you’re getting to know the characters, world, and following several strong humored points, taking the progressive transition to the task at hand, and then ultimately leading into some of the more rich, epic battle artistry that suggests that there’s more to the task, the oppression of this land, and to the character histories than meets the eye. (There’s even a bathhouse scene! *cough*)
With the overarching setup, there are some strong points of resonance, and some that, well, aren’t so strong.
Jay Kristoff has a talent for rich description – he can pull the core of detail through the lens he writes through, and I’m a detail oriented reader myself – so this made me very happy to hear initially. I was very surprised to see a YA work aiming for this kind of epic dystopian fantasy adventure with a blend of interesting, dissimilar elements. But I’ll readily admit to something as I’m writing this that might surprise some people – I wasn’t enamored completely for the first 120-some pages of this book.
Before you start saying “Gods Take the Wheel!” – hear me out. I did like parts of the initial segment of the story, but I felt it could’ve been streamlined in the prose much better than it was – to move from point to point without being hampered by the hyperfocus to detail. I could tell the point it was building up in establishing the characters, the world, the state of things, but even as I’m a fantasy reader who reads a lot of Jordan, Sanderson, and the like – I could tell that this had a bit of trouble finding its feet at times with the balance of moving the plot alongside the depiction. The opening chapter was very nice – that pulled me into the story from point one. Then it backtracks a bit to introduce the characters in the overarching story – Yukiko, the strong, female protagonist with a sharp wit and tongue, Masaru – who seems like a haphazard fatherly figure in Yukiko’s life, and Akihiro, who seems like a lovable giant who tries to keep Masaru out of trouble initially. Kasami, Michi, among other characters pepper the world in which “Stormdancer” takes place – this world that combines steampunk technologies (Airships! Chainsaw Katanas! Armored suits that function for flesh, fight and sustenance!) with a government that rules with an iron fist, so to speak. There’s much about the world that’s oppressive and harmful to the people in Yukiko’s realm. She’s aware of it to an extent, certainly not aware to the role that she ultimately has to play.
There are many characters to get to know in this world, but Kristoff keeps them interesting to watch with nice bits of humor and insight on the tragedies and rigidity that Yukiko, who for the most part is the main character of this work, and the other characters reside under. The story doesn’t truly “begin” until the hunt for the Thunder Tiger gets going. It’s a key part of the secret ability that Yukiko has in this world, and once the arashitora shows up, is captured, and then by measure of events, caught within Yukiko’s journey reluctantly, the story takes off from there.
I liked the chemistry between Buruu, the arashitora, and Yukiko for the most part. Buruu’s a bit on the bold side with some interesting slants of sarcasm, but he’s a more gentle beast than he’s willing to admit. Yukiko herself takes a liking to the beast as well as the boy she ends up traveling with whom she met on the airship (Kin). I liked those three characters the most in this overarching story. Reminded me a little of Princess Mononoke in a way when they’re traveling through the forest and the connection noted between Buruu and Yukiko. The journey they take and the discoveries they make about their ruler and ultimately his role in many oppressive tragedies have the characters reeling, especially Yukiko, finding that she has a very more serious task ahead of her than just returning the Thunder Tiger as requested.
There are definitely instances of romance and character interactions that steadily build upon themselves as the story goes forth, and it is potent in spurts. I don’t know if I felt as intimately connected to that particular thread of the story on all counts, but for the story it sets itself as and the way it ultimately progresses to its final showdown, I was taken in for the long haul. I did feel for the characters as tragedy struck, because you can tell they were fighting for what they believed in and had their own solid motivations within and around each other. Ultimately, Kristoff’s novel builds to a point in a much more expanded conflict, that sets the stage for things to come in the series. I think the ending was appropriate. I’ll admit it left me wanting a little more closure in the story for the sake of taking this as a standalone entry in the series, but it was still very good.
I’m intrigued to see how events turn for the characters in this first book of “The Lotus War” series, and moments in this work really stuck with me as far as the level of taking pieces of the world and building it into something that held my attention and interest. I think those who like a smorgasbord of action, humor, character building, and interesting world elements would find something to like in this novel, though it may take a bit of wading through to find the sweet spot of where the story finds its flow.
Overall score: 3.5/5
Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley, from the publisher St. Martin’s Press/Thomas Dunne Books.