Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Book Review: Stormdancer (The Lotus War - Book One)

Title: Stormdancer (The Lotus War - Book One)
Published: 2012
Author: Jay Kristoff
Genre: Steampunk, Japanese fantasy, action adventure

In a world where mythical creatures exist along side sky-ships and metal clad samurais protect the last heir of the Kasumitsu Dynasty, a young girl and her father are sent to hunt the once thought extinct Arashitora in the high mountains where no men venture.
This book would be fantastic on the big screen.

This was my first steampunk novel and, oh how I loved it. For the people who aren't sure what steampunk is, think the Victorian age, clockwork fittings, goggles, machines run on steam and hot air balloons. Stormdancer is based in a Japanese steampunk fantasy world. Basically steampunk with swords and samurais.

The story surrounds Yukiko, our heroine. She lives in Kigen, ruled by the ruthless Shogun. It is a city filled with smoke, sweat and death. Yukiko's mentality is just to follow the Shogun's rule even if morality isn't on his side and to stay alive. Her belief is 'one cannot change the world'. Of course what good is a heroine without some character development?

Like any good fantasy novel, the main character is thrust into a situation she does not want to be in and thus allow for adventure and character development. Yukiko is no different. She is stubborn but honourable. She grows into a strong young woman but still carries enough faults to make her a 16 year old. I found her likable and relatable. I don't believe I can change the world by myself and I like the idea of a peaceful life. But underneath my content exterior is a wannabe heroine trying to break through. Also, she can wield a sword as good as any man and *spoilers* talk to animals. What makes her the bit more special than your average fantasy character is her story begins rough and tough rather than being the typical ‘princess’ having to save herself by allying and forming a ‘hero guild’ whilst on a perilous journey. (I use the word princess loosely).    

I enjoyed all the characters regardless of whether they were big or small. Their histories and relationship help give rise to the background story and nature of the Shogun's rule. I am happy to say the romance does not interrupt or cause any indentation in the plot. It sits well for the 16 year old girl Yukiko is. One of my favourite characters is Katsumi. She doesn’t get as much mention as I wish in the book but I think her story is subtly bittersweet. She is a 'more than close' friend to Masaru (Yukiko's father) and carries a sense of sorrow and pity with her love story. She is dedicated, torn but as true as she can be. She fell in love with someone who does not share the same feelings back. Katsumi might be a hunter, but underneath she is just a woman in love.

I do want to applaud Jay Kristoff for creating strong female characters in Stormdancer without them loosing their female identity. This is quite hard to do especially from a man’s perspective. As Alex has mentioned in a previous post, it can go 2 ways. A too strong female lead which leads to suspicion as to whether the writer is doing it on purpose to prove they are not sexist, or a too feminine lead that eventually needs a hero (love interest usually) to save the day.

What makes Stormdancer so great is its thoroughness. The book stays true to the Japanese culture (well to the extent that I understand) but also adds elements of a ‘might have been by-gone era.’
Everything fits in to the story perfectly. Jay Kristoff has created a history and country with its own wonders and faults. There is an evil ruler, the innocent peasants, a conspiracy, revenge, a reluctant heroine, even a religion with its own motto. The introduction of Buruu, the Arashitora and the demons open up the gate way to the mythical world. I look forward to and hoping this will be expanded on in the following books.

The writing is descriptive and simple. Jay Kristoff does not feed the reader too much that can’t be carried out throughout the novel. Only annoying thing with Stormdancer is it is the first book in the The Lotus War. Book 2, Kinsalyer will be released in September this year.

Don't let the foreign words or the late release date of book 2 deter you. If you are looking for a steampunk fantasy book, Stormdancer is a must read. I love this book and cannot wait for the second book to come out.

Terri's Rating: 4/5

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