I could probably just write the words “Japan, fantasy, steampunk” and be done with this book review, because that would be enough to make a lot of you reading this blog to go and pick up Stormdancer. Then again, this book deserves more than three words for its review.
Stormdancer, by Australian author Jay Kristoff, is set in Shima – a world whose lands and skies have been polluted by the military dictatorship of the Lotus Guild. The great beasts that once roamed the world have been driven to extinction by industrialisation, and yet the brutal Shogun still employs the Hunt Master Masara- seemingly for vanity’s sake alone. But then he sends Masaru and his daughter Yukiko on an impossible quest to capture a griffin, and Yukiko suddenly becomes embroiled in a world of rebellion and intrigue and forms a mysterious bond with a fabled beast of legend.
Stormdancer not only combines many of my favourite Japanese things – samurai, martial arts and mythology – as well some hybrid creations – chainkatana and the clans of the Fox (to which Yukiko and Masaru belong), Tiger (the ruling Shogun’s family), Dragon and Phoenix. If you ever felt you had a huge fantasy/Japan book-shaped hole in your heart, this will fill it.
Kristoff’s writing is very atmospheric and does a very good job and not only building this entire new world up in your mind but getting you completely stuck in. I read this book very quickly in the space of a few days so am pleased that it is in fact the first in The Lotus War trilogy, meaning plenty more reading for me!
There are also plenty of standout characters – Yukiko wields her katana like a bad-ass but she’s flawed in the choices she makes and not a Mary Sue (thank god), so is genuinely likeable. I also particularly liked her father Masaru, who despite his good intentions is at times let down by his addiction to smoking the toxic Lotus root, and the mysterious griffin Buruu (minor spoiler, Yukiko obviously finds an actual griffin). While some of the characters are a bit more stereotypical, this wouldn’t be a fantasy epic without them.
I would highly recommend Stormdancer and the rest of The Lotus War trilogy to anyone who loves a good fantasy story and wants to combine it with their love for Japanese culture. I’ll definitely be reading the rest of the series at a later date…