Rummanah Aasi
 Stormdancer, the first book in the Lotus War series and Jay Kristoff's debut novel, has garnered many starred reviews from review journals. The reaction from readers has been all over the spectrum from the worst book to the favorite book read in 2012. For me, Stormdancer falls somewhere in the middle of those polar opposites.

Description (from the publisher): A DYING LAND
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.

Review: I really wanted to love Stormdancer. It had everything that I was looking for in a great read: a fantastic world, a wholly original story, and a strong female protagonist who I could root for throughout the book. Unfortunately, it took a lot of patience and setting the book aside, forgetting about it and then picking it up to actually find the compelling aspects of the story.
  Stormdancer is a laborious read. The first half of the book is seeped in fantastic world building. Shima Imperium is a kingdom inspired by feudal Japan. It is a unique society woven from Japanese culture and history along with the author's imagination of steampunk machinery. Living standards are rough. Pollution and drug addiction, both of which runs the empire, proliferate under the rule of a corrupt shogun who seeks to win an admittedly nebulous war. I loved the world building in Stormdancer up to a certain point. Everything is described in minute detail from the story's setting to the clothes that people wear to the types of weapons warriors carry, which slows down the story's pace to a mere crawl. I had to bookmark the glossary, found in the back of the book and a hint that was pointed out to me by some friends, so I could figure out what words, deities, etc meant as there is hardly any context given to them in the text. Many times I would find Japanese words that are used frequently in the story but are never defined. I also found some words that aren't Japanese at all, which I had to look up. I wish the glossary was thoroughly created so it could help alleviate my frustrations with the book. For the most part, I think my experiences reading manga kind of helped build a vague foundation of Shima Imperium, but I still had to wrap my head around the world. The story is told mainly through third person narrative and finally picks up the slow pace when it turns its attention on the various characters in the story.
  Our protagonist, Yukiko is a strong willed teen forced to take care of her father at a tender age of 16. Yukiko has an antagonistic relationship with her father, a once revered warrior who now spends his time in a drug induced state in order to forget the horrors of his past. Through small glimpses of flashbacks, we are lead to believe that her father is the person responsible of driving her mother and brother away. We instantly feel Yukiko's isolation and anger. We become protective of her, but her survival and perceptive skills assure us that she can do fine on her own. Though she is aware of the flaws of her society, she isn't sure of the corruption's inception and extent nor does she know what her life is outside of keeping a watchful eye on her father. She is gifted (or cursed?) with an ability which the shogun's guild would punish with death if it is discovered: She can commune with animals. Her courage, fears, and skills are put to test when the Emperor commissions Yukiko's father and his crew to catch an elusive arashitora, a creature part-eagle and part-tiger. Yukiko's quest to survive becomes more challenging. Failure to find the arashitora means the end for Yukiko and her father. Indeed, death looms around every corner as Yukiko meets defectors, rebels and others too scared to oppose the shogun. After discovering startling truths about her family, she quickly becomes the face of rebellion.
  While Yukiko is a fabulous character whom I would love to know more, her character growth isn't smooth. It starts and stops when additional world building weeds itself in between. There were many times when I had to skim over the descriptions in order to keep my momentum going. I loved the moments where Yukiko and the arashitora form a special bond that grows at a realistic pace. Important themes central to the characters' motivations and key character relationships are surprisingly summed up in just few sentences, which left me completely unsatisfied. The book ends just when I found myself getting comfortable with the story.
  By the time I was finished with the book, I felt like I completed an arduous task, however, I didn't feel the satisfactions of completing it. While there is no dangerous cliffhangers lingering, there are plenty of unanswered questions.  I'm still conflicted about recommending this book and I'm not sure if I'll be continuing the series, especially if the dense and overwhelming world building continues. Stormdancer perhaps is one of those few books that might work better on film or even a graphic novel as its  visuals are incredibly important to the story. It's just too bad that the great characters have to take a back seat. 

Rating: 3.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is some strong language, allusion to a few sex scenes, and strong violence. Recommended for strong Grade 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Leviathan trilogy by Scott Westerfeld, Hungry City Chronicles by Philip Reeve, Eon by Alison Goodman, Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon
5 Responses
  1. Hmm...not sure about this. I love the Asian cultural influences. And that there's such great world building. But it sounds like a dystopic fantasy and I don't know that that is my thing.

  2. Candace Says:

    This was a heavier read but somehow I didn't have a hard time with it. I'm glad I read it back before there were many reviews cause I think I would have been too intimidated to give it a try. This one worked really well for me. I know you're not the only one who struggled with the pace though.

  3. I think laborious is such a perfect word to describe Stormdancer, especially the first half, but I thought it all payed off in the end. I'm sorry you didn't like it quite as much as I did, but still, the worldbuilding is truly something to admire. :)
    Great review!

  4. I actually loved this one. I really enjoyed how it combined the different genres. Perhaps it is paced like a fantasy novel and since I read a lot of those, it didn't affect me as much. Still, glad you found some enjoyment. Sorry you didn't like it as much as I did.

  5. The reviews for this one have been quite mixed so I've been hesitant of starting it. I love worldbuilding that's detailed but it just sounds way too in depth here. And with the character growth not being smooth ... I'm just not sure. I guess I'll continue to keep it in my TBR pile but will hold off reading it as you usually have similar thoughts.

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