Jay Kristoff – Stormdancer

I was super excited to get an e-ARC of this book. It has lived through some considerable pre-publication hype and, I admit yet again to be a influenced by covers, the art on the US edition is stunning. I also want to say how nice and friendly the publisher is. My e-book copy was a PDF-file with tiny print, so I wrote them an e-mail asking for an epub copy. Not only did they reply within a few hours but I also got an epub copy right away. I haven’t had much experience with publishers and ARCs, so I was surprised and very happy how friendly they were. Big thumbs up for being nice to reviewers! And yes, little things like this will make me more inclined to purchase other books from St. Martin’s Press and keep an eye on their catalogue. Also, this book happens to be really good.

by Jay Kristoff

published: St. Martin’s Press, 2012
ISBN: 1250017912
pages: 337
copy: ebook via NetGalley
series: The Lotus War #1

my rating: 5,5/10

first sentence: 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.

The lotus must bloom.

I was tempted to give this book an 8 out of 10 for a while. It starts out really, really good. We are thrown into a convincing steampunk world that isn’t just gears on corsets and blimps flying around for no good reason. There is one great idea – the use of the lotus plant for pretty much everything – that defines an entire nation and culture. Lotus is used for fuelling machinery, it’s used as weed for smoking, the reddish smoke it produces pullutes the sky and gives the entire book a feel of its own. The cover – I’m going to rave about it some more later – captures all of this brilliantly. It’s not only black and red because that looks cool, but because it is really part of the story. Another compliment to the publishers.
As great as the idea may be, I would have loved to get into a little more depth when it comes to world-building. What we know so far sounds plausible and, like I said, makes for a fantastic and original world. But it’s simply left at that and we don’t get to find out (yet!) the intricacies of how this came to pass and how it all fits into the society that was created. My hopes lie in the next instalment…

The writing style is very descriptive, sometimes to the point where it gets a little too much. Then again, this is a lush world that never lets us forget how much lotus has taken over everyday life. Personally, I’d rather have too much description than too little so I’m totally fine with this. If descriptions make the character development suffer though, that’s a different thing. Characters – as readers of this blog will know by now – are the most important thing for me. In the beginning of the story, we had a cast of characters and I noticed that Yukiko’s father actually stole the show from her. He was interesting. He was obviously fighting some internal dilemma, some demons of the past, and I cared for him immediately.

Yukiko, our protagonist, stays in the background for quite a while and when she does become the main focus of the story, I found her too passive. Except for the defining moment when she takes matters into her own hands, starting this whole adventure, she usually just listens to what people say, executes plans and reacts. She was likable enough but too vague a character for my taste and definitely not active enough.

Now to the story. It starts our really, really good. Original ideas paired with a compelling world make for a nice adventure. You want to discover this place, you want to learn what makes it tick and how this society works. And of course, you want to learn how to train your arashitora. The thunder tiger was my personal hero of this story. He starts out as a beast, a wild creature that needs freedom and flight and despises humanity for having ruined their environment. When he bonds with Yukiko, things happened a little too fast for my taste. “Taming” (if you can call it that) an animal, mythological or not, should take more time. I didn’t really believe the creation of their bond but I absolutely loved how it grew over time. Once they’re friends, their emotions get tangible and I cared whether they were together or not. This makes for some great scenes later on in the book (and that’s all I’m going to say, so as not to spoil).

I do have one big pet peeve with this book. The plot, while starting out great, becomes predictable and kind of lazy later on. It would be possible to describe the entire plot of the book in one simple sentence. And condensed to such a level, it’s not very original. Girl bonds with mythological creature. Tries to save empire from evil. My problem with this was that it was clear what the quest was too early on and there weren’t realy any twists to keep me guessing. The climax was partly over-dramatic and partly even boring. We knew what was going to happen.

As for the love story, it was also extremely predictable, but I still enjoyed reading about it. I like that it doesn’t take up a lot of the book, it’s sort of a sub-plot in the background. Again, I would have liked more information on the romantic interest’s background and daily life but I suppose I can’t have it all. There are  more books coming, after all. And I am waiting for them eagerly.

Here’s the cover rant and rave:

It is perfect! Down to the nine-tailed fox tattoo on Yukiko’s right arm. The arashitora looks just like it’s described in the story and it’s so refreshing to have a cover depict the actual main character. I remember some incident where a book featured a dark-skinned protagonist and the cover showed the whitest girl possible. Here, you can tell a lot of thought went into the cover art. I found some work-in-progress and alternate covers for this book but ultimately, they went with the best one. (Alternate covers found on in this great Jason Chan interview about the cover evolution)

On a side note, I’m glad I’m not the only one who has noticed that Jay Kristoff looks a lot like the Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl. Yummy is all I say. (Not that this has any impact on the review at all…)

THE GOOD: Interesting world, descriptive writing and a lot of potential for the next book.
THE BAD: Some things are left unexplored, the main plot was a bit predictable.
THE VERDICT: Recommended. If you like steampunk or Japan or flying mythological creatures bonding with young girls, you will enjoy this a lot. And it makes you want more!

RATING: 5,5/10 A quite good read.

The Lotus War:

  1. Stormdancer
  2. untitled

Other reviews:

Also, check out this awesome alternative cover – the Thunder Tiger edition – as found on Jay Kristoff’s blog: