Jay Kristoff brings steampunk to feudal Japan in a way that is truly groundbreaking with Stormdancer. Even though the story’s locale is different, it’s not Victorian London or Civil War era US, it is Kristoff’s understanding of steampunk that takes this book from an interesting read to a stellar gamechanger.
The first in an epic new fantasy series, introducing an unforgettable new heroine and a stunningly original dystopian steampunk world with a flavor of feudal Japan.
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.
AN IMPOSSIBLE QUEST
The hunters of Shima’s imperial court are charged by their Sh?gun 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 Sh?gun is death.
A HIDDEN GIFT
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 Sh?gun’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.
Stormdancer represents something rarely heard in the steampunk genre and has yet to be as popularly embraced as it was here. Though the backdrop of Japan is a gorgeous setting, which fills the hearts of steampunk and anime fans with glee, it is not the locale which most fascinated me. Instead, it was Kristoff’s emphasis on the punk of the steampunk genre. Ask many who write steampunk and they will comment that the punk aspect speaks to degradation of society in a post apocalyptic setting. Kristoff threw this concept out the window and embraced all aspects of punk culture. Stormdancer sets us up with this edgier understanding when it immediately shows us a telling trait of the setting – people are judged by the quality of their tattoos. Ink is generally a subject oftentimes relegated to alternative aspects but is center stage here. In making this so, Kristoff immediately creates a world that embraces both the Japanese locale and counterculture of steampunk. Showcasing the tattoos is not the only instance where punk culture is evident. In fact, the whole major plot-line eventually revolves around citizens who question their government and want to make it a better place; understanding that such vision takes sacrifice.
As much as the concept of punk in steampunk was turned on its head, so was the concept of steam. To date, the majority of steampunk has embraced industrialization and technological advances through Victorian era means. However, Stormdancer creates a world where industrialization is resented and we are reminded of the nature that is lost with things such as city growth. I had never before thought to see the steampunk genre from the view of nature and I’m so glad Kristoff opened my eyes to the possibilities. This concept which made me at first question whether Stormdancer was truly a steampunk novel made me realize that nothing could truly be more steampunk than the questioning of one’s comfort zone.
The characters are well written, so much so that I am not even bothered when plotlines and character reactions are somewhat predictable. The true star of Stormdancer is Kitsune Yukiko, who unabashedly makes mistakes but keeps on no matter the obstacle. Kristoff brilliantly humanizes Yukiko; she disagrees with her father, sleeps with the guy she wants and changes her purpose throughout the course of Stormdancer. Her evolution as a character is natural and genuine, which only leaves readers wondering where she’ll go next. For me, these things make Yukiko’s story legendary, yet relatable.
Stormdancer shows us a world which is both intuitive and engaging. Kristoff spares no detail, effortlessly bringing to life both magical and technological aspects of his steampunk world. With a protagonist who even true cynics would find likeable, Stormdancer is a fantasy which makes the readers ask themselves questions about nature vs. intervention, human vs. machine and most importantly legend vs. reality. Though Stormdancer is quickly becoming a legend in its own right, the reality of reading it is truly worth experiencing.