Japanese steampunk. Yeah, I said Japanese steampunk. Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff is a dystopian feudal Japan setting with Iron Samurai wielding chainsaw katanas. Chainsaw katanas.
The world of Shima was once bound with nature and the spirits, but the destructive spiral of industrialization , war and corruption, has polluted the land to the brink of unsustainable collapse. The Lotus Guild, the ruthless clockwork makers, are in a tense tug of power with the sadistic Shogun.
After the first couple of chapters I had to share how cool the setting was with my fourteen year old son. His eyes grew wide at the seamless blending of traditional Japan with gears and piston engines.
“Was Japan like that at all?” He asked. And then I launched into how Japan was forced into the industrial world via Commodore Perry. This led to me waxing poetically about the movie The Last Samurai, going on and on until we talked about what it would be like if aliens invaded and we had to adapt to such foreign technology, etc, etc. Until I realized my son was using this conversation as an excuse to stop doing his homework. Back to work! And I got back to my book…
Stormdancer is like a great kung-fu movie, where violence really can solve most of your problems. The heroine Yukiko is compassionate: she saves puppies and gives her last coins to a beggar woman. But Yukiko is also brave and will never stop fighting; even as she slips into unconsciousness, she is groping for her knife. Yukiko can slice your up, and if she somehow can’t, then her freakin’ THUNDER TIGER will!
That’s the best part of this book, the growing relationship between Buruu, a mythological thunder tiger, and Yukiko. It is done at a beautiful pace. The stormdancer fight scene (not going to explain that further so as not to ruin it for you) is the highlight of the book. I actually put the book down to imagine it again in slow motion. So cool.
The plot is revenge on the small scale, and complete governmental destruction on the larger plan of the series. The body count is incredibly high in this book, and so many characters die, I was getting concerned of who would be around for the rest of the series. The bad guys are really, really evil. They are so evil that you know there is only one option: cold, very bloody, horrible death.
This is not a book about nuance. Like I said, it is a well-done kung-fu movie, but with a female heroine, and a detailed new fantasy setting. That said, there is one side character that seemed less legendary, more real: Kin. He is a guildsman, one of the makers of the industry, but he is struggling to break free of his metal skin. Will he be able to? Not sure, but I’m curious about his journey.
This book is upper YA for violence. My son wanted me to just tell him the basic story instead of reading the bloody details himself. I picked up the book at my local book store because I completely judge a book by its cover and the artwork is truly cool. Exciting read!