Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff

Just finished reading Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff.  I enjoyed this although I didn’t absolutely love it and it’s difficult to say why exactly.  I do think it’s a really interesting idea and it certainly has plenty going for it.  Set in an alternative Japan where the air is polluted by toxic fumes and the countryside is being slowly destroyed with many animals becoming extinct as their habitats disappear.  Kigen City is the centre of everything.  It’s residents wear goggles and masks to avoid damaging their lungs.  They travel in airships manned by Cloud Walkers.  Kigen is a city of contrasts.  The Shogun living in decadent splendour whilst many of the residents live in squalor and die in poverty.  On top of this we have the Lotus Guild.  A strange organisation seemingly controlled by religious zealots whose aim is to rid the population of the ”impure” (people who have developed certain abilities such as telepathy or the ability to connect to animals (keening).  This Guild provides the machines and technology that keep everything ticking over and so there exists between them and the Shogun a strange relationship which basically means they both overlook each other’s imperfections because it suits them to do so.  The Lotus Guild are responsible for the production of Lotus.  This plant has many uses one of which seems to be to send anyone who smokes it into a temporary oblivion – it is also of course highly addictive!

And so, at the start of the story, and following a dream in which the Shogun sees himself riding into victory on the back of a Thunder Tiger, Masaru, the Emperor’s master hunter, is commanded to hunt and capture such a beast and as much as this may seem like the impossible (or the whim of a madman) Masaru is honour bound to carry out the instruction and so he sets off, aboard an Airship named ‘Child’, with his daughter Yukiko and two companions Kasumi and Akihito. Of course, the Thunder Tiger (or Griffin) does exist and Masaru succeeds in capturing the creature – however, his triumph is short lived as the airship is consumed by flames following a lightening strike.  The Griffin, captured and caged aboard the ship is about to plummet to his death until Yukiko makes a heroic bid  and comes to it’s rescue and this is the where the story really begins.

Yukiko and the thunder tiger, Buruu, find themselves in the forest where the strange bond they have developed, through Yukiko’s ability to mentally connect to animals, begins to grow.  Yukiko starts to look at the world with different eyes and Buruu, through his connection to Yukiko starts to develop a more complex way of thought.  For me personally Yukiko and Buruu are what make this story special.  Their bond and ability to speak through each others minds are really special.  I really did love the griffin and his straightforward, no nonsense, way of thinking.  He’s just this beautiful, majestic animal, huge, terrifying and stunning.  Wouldn’t everyone love such a companion.

Anyway, Yukiko and Buruu start their journey through the forest.  They pick up another companion along the way, Kin.  Kin is one of the Guild and as such despised and abhorred by others.  He’s lonely and developed a liking for Yukiko whilst aboard the Child but Yukiko must be careful, she wants to help Kin but she has to keep her secret abilities hidden – otherwise she will be taken by the Guild and burned alive to rid the world of her impurities! The three also uncover a strange hidden village and this is where the main thrust of the story really picks up – I won’t go further into detail about the plot.  Suffice to say that Yukiko and Buruu are going to return to Kigen and play a strange game of intrigue that will prove to be very dangerous to both of them and their friends.

Okay, I think the world building is one of the author’s strong points.  He really does put a lot of thought into this and provides plenty of detail, back stories and myths and legends.  However, I think in some respects, although I think he has a lovely style of writing I do think he has a tendency to overdo certain detail.  Don’t’ get me wrong, I’m a bit of a stickler for attention to detail but I think that there are certain elements of the story that have become a little bogged the description – almost to the extent that you lose the thread a little and have to backtrack!  I certainly wouldn’t say it spoiled the story for me but definitely the first third of the book felt a little slow and I think this was due to the wealth of information – I suppose it’s a trap for some ‘first in series’ books where  the author is trying to paint as thorough a picture as possible of  his imagined world.

The Characters were a mixed bunch and to be honest not the strong point of the story for me.  The father, seemingly a hopeless addict wallowing in his own personal world of grief.  The loyal friend Akihito.  The tough female warrior Kasumi, strangely devoted to Masaru.  The latter two could definitely have done with a little bit more definition although that being said they don’t play a massive part.  The father, I felt quite detached from in a lot of ways.  I wouldn’t say I disliked him but then I didn’t particularly like him either and I had a similar feeling of ambivalence towards a number of the other characters.  I really wanted to detest the Shogun – again, I definitely didn’t like him – but he wasn’t the baddie that you love to hate!  His sister was a particularly interesting character and one that I would have enjoyed reading more of – not quite the silly girl that her fancy dresses and make up at first portray.  I think the characters are my biggest criticism in a way.  I thought the endings were a little rushed, the Shogun’ s character was underdeveloped, his sister could have played a much stronger part and the whole romance issue felt like a token gesture really and not necessary to the plot.

Yet, in spite of the criticisms I didn’t dislike this and it is an impressive debut – I just simply didn’t love it as much as I first thought I would.  I will still pick up the next in the series.  I would like to see how the story develops from here.  I think the author has come up with a really unique fantasy with an interesting central theme.  I enjoyed the setting, although how authentic any of this is I really couldn’t say, I liked the style of writing and, on top of that, check out this absolutely gorgeous cover:

Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff

Stormdancer, image from Goodreads

I received a copy of this from the David Gemmell Legend Awards in return for a honest review and the above is my own opinion.

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11 Responses to “Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff”

  1. Tanya

    That’s a fair review. It sounds interesting, but this is probably going be be one of those mood-reads, right?

    • lynnsbooks

      I did enjoy it – I think that the author is trying to do so much though that it’s difficult to be pleasing in all aspects. His writing is very good and descriptive. Personally, I would have liked a bit more character development but that being said i will still move on to No.2. The relationship with the Griffin is probably worth the read alone!
      Lynn 😀

  2. TBM

    I love the cover! As for the story, it sounds interesting and a lot to tackle in a first novel.

    • lynnsbooks

      There is a lot to tackle and I enjoyed it. Like I said, would have probably liked a little less description here and there and a little more character development but overall it was a good read and the Griffin is great to read about.
      Lynn 😀

      • TBM

        Balance description and character development I imagine is a tricky thing with such a complex story.

      • lynnsbooks

        It’s an impressive debut to be honest. I loved the griffin and the relationship with the young girl. Worth picking up the next one for that alone!
        Lynn 😀

  3. jenclair

    I already had this one on my list, and I still want to read it. Yeah, love the cover.

    • lynnsbooks

      That cover is absolutely gorgeous!
      I think you should still read it. I think the reason I didn’t absolutely love it was the characters felt a bit underdeveloped but the author has a lovely writing style, it’s steampunk – and there’s a Griffin! What more can you want. I will definitely continue with the series.
      Lynn 😀

  4. Two Dudes in an Attic

    Hmmm. I’m intrigued, but at the same time, I’m a tough customer for Japan stuff. There’s always that risk that I’ll just end up irritated by the end when foreign devils try to portray Glorious Nippon.
    (That’s only partly joking…..)

    • lynnsbooks

      It’s definitely a good story. My main criticism was I wanted more from the characters but I will continue with the series to see if this is built on in No.2. I think there has been some criticism about whether some of the terms, etc, were used correctly – this wasn’t a problem for me as to be honest I’m not an expert. Plus, I tend to give the author some leeway if he’s writing fantasy – after all even though this is portrayed as Japan it isn’t really Japan as we know it – unless of course Japan does have Griffins flying around and all the people travel up and down the country aboard dirigibles! Not to mention demons that stream out of cracks in the rocks, a crazy arsed Shogun and a strange lotus plant that everybody is addicted to and needs some fairly unusual fertiliser.
      Lynn 😀

      • Two Dudes in an Attic

        I’m not gonna say that Japan isn’t weird enough for any of this…..
        And yeah, for fantasy I am of course more lenient. Add to that the fact that I’ll gleefully read something about some other culture that I know nothing about and lap it up shamelessly. So in the end, it probably wouldn’t be a big deal, but I’d inevitably write a post about it that turned into an anthropology paper, and nobody wants that.

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