Update: Since posting this review, I have come to the conclusion that I can no longer recommend this book due to the terrible characterizations and appropriation of Japanese culture. At the time of writing this review, I did not take into account the very harmful depictions it contains and the careless, blatant ignorance about the culture this book claims to draw inspiration from. I have since been educated on the matter and felt it would be inappropriate to leave this post up without acknowledging my mistake.
It’s rare that I find a book I don’t like – as you might be able to tell from previous reviews – but it’s even rarer for me to find a story that I want to read again, and again, and again! And Stormdancer is absolutely the latter.
The Shõgun of Shima does not care that his country is on the brink of collapse: the land, water, and air poisoned by the toxic Lotus fuel that powers his armies. All he desires is one thing: an arashitora, a creature of myth and legend. Yukiko and her warrior father Masaru know it is an impossible task; arashitoras have been extinct for years. But they cannot refuse the command of their Lord, and set out on a futile quest to capture the legendary beast.
But the mission proves less futile, and more dangerous than they could have ever suspected, and Yukiko soon finds herself stranded in the country’s last wilderness, alone with a furious, crippled arashitora. Yet soon, trapped together in the forest and connected by their thoughts, Yukiko and the beast soon discover a bond they never expected… and learn the true, horrifying extent of the Shõgun’s crimes. Now returning to the city, they are both determined to see the Shõgun pay for his crimes against them and the country. But how can they hope to stand against the might of an empire?
I think I need to apologize to Jay Kristoff for taking so long to actually sit down and read this one, because Stormdancer is absolutely fantastic. I had actually picked up this book a few years ago. The cover is spectacular and the summary was intriguing. So like any good book lover, I immediately purchased this wonderful new book and then proceeded to carefully store it on my shelf to sit, unread, for nearly six years.
(My TBR list is never going to get any smaller, is it?)
But even sitting on my overcrowded shelves for months on end could not dull the absolute, punch-to-the-gut excitement this book delivered. I practically inhaled the entire thing in three days, and I’m currently forcing myself to write this instead of picking up the sequel.
Stormdancer is an absolute masterpiece of worldbuilding, with geisha’s in gas masks, blimps spewing black, poisonous clouds from their engines, and a sky turned red from pollution. It’s an incredible vision of a steampunk Japanese-inspired empire grown decrepit and diseased from the use of ‘chi’ – the fuel made from the toxic Lotus flower that poisons the soil it grows in. You can feel the stink and the rot of the country through every bit of narration, as well as the tragic, dull acceptance of the situation by the people. It’s a new take on a dystopia that I haven’t seen before, and a welcome breath of fresh air (so to speak) on this kind of setting.
“You walked into this village with a thunder tiger beside you. You have slain demons with your own hands. Are the old myths really that hard to believe?”― Jay Kristoff, Stormdancer
“They wouldn’t be myths otherwise, would they?”
“Then have a care, Yukiko-chan,” Daichi smiled. “Keeping the company of the last arashitora in Shima sounds like an excellent way to become a myth yourself.”
It’s Yukiko and her relationship with the arashitora – the thunder tiger – however, that really makes this book memorable. Yukiko is determined, heroic, and has the strongest sense of honour I have ever seen in a heroine. The thunder tiger was a pleasant surprise as well – he’s not just a mount for Yukiko to ride into battle, he’s a real character of his own, with anger and pride and a rather surprising sense of genuine humor that I loved. The slow build of the bond between them, first anger and reluctant trust, then respect and admiration, is absolutely phenomenal. It doesn’t feel forced or magically gifted, it’s a real bond, formed through hardship and respect, and I love them both for it.
The one part of this book I didn’t care for as much was, unfortunately, the opening chapters. There is a lot of exposition packed in here, and very little actually happens between our introduction to the world and the discovery of the very-much-not-extinct thunder tiger. I wouldn’t say it’s boring, as the introduction to the utterly bleak world is fascinating in a very heartbreaking way, but I would have liked to see it shown to me through character interaction and clever dialogue rather than being told most of it by a narrator. Everything improves a thousand times over once we get to the arashitora, but it was a bit of a stalled start to an otherwise gripping story.
RAIJIN, TAKE ME NOW.
She shot Buruu a withering glance as he rolled over on his back and pawed at the sky.
HAVE MERCY ON ME, FATHER. TAKE MY WINGS. CHAIN ME TO STINKING EARTH. BUT THIS TORTURE I CANNOT ENDURE.
“Oh, shut it.”― Jay Kristoff, Stormdancer
With that said, would I still recommend this book? Absolutely. One hundred percent. Everything that happens after the opening is a whirlwind of adventure, struggle, and an unlikely friendship that just melted my heart. It was a beacon of light even when the book delved into darkness and despair. There’s something inspiring about someone standing up to an evil so many times bigger and more powerful than themselves, and knowing that there will always be one person – or mythical beast – that will stand with them. And with two more sequels, it looks like this is only the beginning – and I cannot wait to find out what happens next.
Final Thoughts: With demons, air-ships, and a brewing revolutions set beneath a pollution-choked red sky, Stormdancer is an epic debut filled with heart and revolutionary spirit. This book is an absolutely favourite and I recommend this to absolutely anyone who enjoys fantastic worldbuilding, and a heroic duo with the strength to stand against an empire!
Thanks for reading everyone.