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PFS2012 ARC Review: Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff

Title: Stormdancer
Story Arc: Series
Publication: September 18, 2012 by St. Martin's Press
Hardcover: 336 pages
Genre: Fantasy, Steampunk, Dystopian, Asian, Adventure
Age Group: Young Adult
Source: St. Martin's Press via Netgalley.com
Excerpt(s): No
Content: Bloody Violence, Profanity, Implicit Sex and Sexual Harassment, Murder

As the iron war club scythed toward her head, Yukiko couldn't help wishing she'd listened to her father...

The Shima Imperium verges on the brink of environmental collapse; an island nation once rich in tradition and myth, now decimated by clockwork industrialization and the machine-worshipers of the Lotus Guild. The skies are red as blood, the land is choked with toxic pollution, and the great spirit animals that once roamed its wilds have departed forever.

The hunters of Shima’s imperial court are charged by their Shōgun to capture a thunder tiger—a legendary creature, half-eagle, half-tiger. But any fool knows the beasts have been extinct for more than a century, and the price of failing the Shōgun is death.

Yukiko is a child of the Fox clan, possessed of a talent that if discovered, would see her executed by the Lotus Guild. Accompanying her father on the Shōgun’s hunt, she finds herself stranded: a young woman alone in Shima’s last wilderness, with only a furious, crippled thunder tiger for company. Even though she can hear his thoughts, even though she saved his life, all she knows for certain is he’d rather see her dead than help her.

But together, the pair will form an indomitable friendship, and rise to challenge the might of an empire.
Kitsune Yukiko has an ability that could change the world she lives in and loathes. Abandoned by her mother, betrayed by her father, and lost without the parts of herself that died during her childhood, Yukiko is cold, frank, and stubborn. She doesn’t content herself with the explanations she’s received from her power-hungry government; she knows the truth. The skies are blood-red because they’re dying like everything else, torn open by the poisonous industrialization spread by the Lotus Guild. The red lotus is used to help them unravel secrets while it helps her father bury his, and strips the natural beauty of the Shima Imperium as it diminishes what’s left of the people she loves, turning them into a stark, hollow, frightening contrast of what used to be. Beauty and truth must now be excavated from the toxic manmade layers it’s buried beneath, and fate will push Yukiko to find her own honor and valor, and teach her the power and meaning of sacrifice for something even more worthwhile.

Yukiko isn’t the only one startled by adventures to come. I didn’t know what to expect with Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff—does anyone ever really know when we’re talking about such a hyped up novel? It’s described as Asian steampunk fantasy, and while that couldn’t be more accurate, nothing else that has been mentioned could’ve given me a clue as to where this book would take off. With Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff, many things take off at once; so much is set in motion very quickly. And, at first, that was a good thing. Honestly, is there any way to read objectively as a young girl battles against hulking, terrifying demons of myth, clambering through impossible roots and countless branches as the illusion of beauty is smoked out by the burning stench of rot and blood permeating the scene, and slowly fades as a blood-stained beast rises from what’s left of the slain creatures previously giving chase? That’s literally just the prologue. The problem, however, was that I was absolutely absorbed in this adrenaline-packed opening, and felt shoved into all this political animosity, verbose description, and ongoing back story while still hungering for more of what I’d started out with.

Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff does that a lot—it’s one of those novels that offers you a spoonful of delicious action and tension and adrenaline, but then flips back to the less stirring things. I don’t know if everything I learned was absolutely necessary to understand, appreciate, and enjoy the book, but I do know that when this would happen, I was yanked out of my focus and the story’s momentum began to wean—much like my motivation to read on. Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff, for me, isn’t the kind of book you can read in one sitting and stay absorbed, addicted. Because the moments in which you are fully engaged are sporadic it’s difficult to not only stay immersed but to maintain interest into continuing a little bit more hour after hour. It took me a few days to get through this one, because the pacing was controlled by the different directions of the plot and the build-up of it’s points. I needed something a bit more consistent—rather than a zigzagging roller-coaster, I would’ve much preferred a steady incline heading to the action so that I didn’t feel teased and frustrated.

It also didn’t help that all the different Japanese suffixes, titles, objects, etc. aren’t very simple to keep straight so that it’s easy to understand. For this, it may help to read the glossary in the back of the book first, although I do believe they may give away spoilers, so you might be stuck there. This is all introduced in a way that flows as if I already knew what most of these Japanese words meant—and I watch as much Japanese subbed anime as the next person—instead of actually in need of being taught, reading with mounting frustration and confusion, which forced me to go back and reread certain pieces in order to get a clear picture of the whole. Throw in Jay’s wordy—though brilliantly, meaningfully written—descriptions, and it was a simple thing to get lost and thrown off.

However, though Jay may have introduced his world too quickly for proper intake, he simultaneously shows us what he sees, and has this gift of creating an atmospheric setting in each place. Nothing is as straightforward as we would normally perceive them to be. I constantly felt like I was watching an old Asian historical fiction movie, surrounded by all this cruelty, filth, slyness, and poison with old-world charm and new-world technology in the backdrop. Even so, his storytelling still suffered—although his words are brilliant, they are still many for the impatient reader eager to consume and don’t have an effortless finish to them. It’s not easy to fall in with a scene, especially if what’s happening doesn’t grab you and is merely a set-up for the next one.

Having said that, it’s also not so easy to fall in with the characters either. At least, that’s the case when we’re talking about separately rather than collectively. I didn’t connect well with and appreciate Yukiko until Buruu enters the picture. And my feelings are much the same about the other characters—it took two, sometimes three characters to beat a path I could use to feel something for just a single character. All together, I cared for them. But, there was no filled-to-bursting with love or hate feelings for any of the characters. As if I was seeing them through plated glass, encountering an intriguing sight but unable to approach and appreciate the nature of it. The in-depth look into each character, as well as the equally painstakingly detailed characterization, should’ve been enough to satisfy me. It wasn’t. You’ll notice in my reviews that it doesn’t take much for me to love a character, but in order to feel so much for one, I have to feel them—their presence, their emotions, their thoughts. The characters in Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff came across as well-written players in a story rather than real, genuine people, with charms and quirks and a smidgen of relatability.

With such a convoluted plot, unfelt characters, and faulty pacing, you might be wondering about any good points, right? Don’t worry, there are several. There are solid reasons why this book is so well-loved; the talk isn’t rubbish at all. As I said, each word Jay incorporates has meaning. There were times where, when I wasn’t frustrated by all of them, I was simply awe-struck. You can feel Jay trying to reach you with something that’s important to him, which touched off my appreciation for what he has to tell us. Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff shows us the power of raising our heads and our voices after keeping them lowered and hidden for so long to keep no one’s prosperity in tact but those who grant nothing but misfortune onto the whole. The relationship between Yukiko and Buruu? What springs from the mistrust, anger, and resentment is the stitching of a bond so down-to-the-marrow close it’s a living blanket which keeps the two warm and inseparable. Which brings me to the action, the fight scenes, the moments where that bond between Yukiko and Burru blend them into a single-minded being in the thickness of battle. The meaning and representation of Stormdancer is wrapped up in what these two do as one.

The ending of the book brought me right back to my state at the beginning—riveted, excited, and prepped for more. My only wish is that all of what led up to it wasn’t so inconsistent and difficult to wade through. I wish I hadn’t had to work to keep my interest at a reasonable level so that I could go onto the parts of the book I’d been anticipating. However, in spite of my struggles, I’m looking forward to the results of the aftermath at the end—what will happen to the nation now? Will there be only more feuding? And will the friendship between Yukiko and Kin fly into the direction I’m hoping for?

Reading the sequel to answer these questions, and to explore more of Jay’s brilliance, will definitely be worth the wait for it and time spent throughout.

Rating: Sud-Kissed

IN LESS WORDS: Initially, I rated this book higher because I hadn’t worked through all of my feelings on STORMDANCER. It was basically my reaction to that blast of an ending. But, after surveying my feelings a bit more, I realized the rating hadn’t been accurate. While I enjoyed certain parts of the book and could appreciate the parts that didn’t interest me necessarily but still held obvious creativity and cleverness, the fact is I didn’t LOVE this book. I liked it for what I did find to be an awesome story, with a ton of colorful jumps and heartstrings-cutting emotions, but overall it still felt like a story, rather than something alive and vibrant, something cut and stitched into the heart for memory’s sake. I wanted to develop a stronger bond with every element of the story and was denied, which is where my disappointment springs from. Can I say STORMDANCER is as wild as I’d anticipated? Absolutely! But, unfortunately, there’re fundamental pieces missing that I couldn’t get passed. Even so, I can’t wait for a sequel!

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Got something specific in mind? Dare I believe I might NOT have covered something you wish to know? If so, let me know down in the comments section. Comment down below if flying griffins are your thing or you're into sword-wielding Japanese maidens taking on an empire.


Lili said...

I understand why you had to take a step back and reevaluate your feelings. Sometimes you think a book is so awesome but when you actually think about it, you shake your head at the silliness. You were too riled up at an explosive ending. With that being said, I still can't wait to check this book out, though I'll be a bit more careful with my expectations for it.

Candace said...

I agree that this isn't a light book by any means. I had to take breaks too. And I too connected with Yukiko after Buruu was in the picture. And oh man, I loved Buruu! I LOVED the twists and how I managed to be surprised. I guess i LOVED the book, but still fully understand the issues you had with it.

Danny Bookworm said...

I totally get such feelings too! Sometimes I rate a book higher or lower and then, after thinking about it I have to re evaluate my ratinggs!
I loved Stormdancer but I had some minor issues with it too... but still, it was an amazing ride :)