Book Review: Stormdancer by Kristoff (4 Stars)

Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff

4 out of 5 stars

Read in late August 2014

Synopsis from MacMillan’s site:

Stormdancer is the first in the epic new fantasy series The Lotus War, introducing an unforgettable heroine and a stunningly original dystopian steampunk world with a flavor of feudal Japan.

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. When hunters of Shima’s imperial court are charged by their Shōgun to capture a legendary griffin, they fear their lives are over. Any fool knows the beasts have been extinct for more than a century, and the price of failing the Shōgun is death.  Accompanying her father on the Shōgun’s hunt, the girl Yukiko finds herself stranded: a young woman alone in Shima’s last wilderness, with only a furious, crippled griffin 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.

My Thoughts

My initial gut-reaction upon completing Stormdancer was to give it five stars, which I did via GoodReads.  As soon as I finish a book, the metadata maven in me wants to clean up my reading queue and file it away at the earliest opportunity.  So I gave it five stars, wrote a couple of quick sentences and reshelved the ebook to make way for my next reading conquest.  Then I spent the day reading a couple of short fiction works (by other authors) to clear my head.  This morning, I woke up and read some friends reviews of Stormdancer on GoodReads and decided I may have been a bit hasty in my five-star rave rating.  I agreed with what my trusted reviewing friends had to say about Stormdancer.

The whole idea of an alternate Japan, with real mythological creatures, subtle hereditary magic abilities and an Industrial Revolution (aka steampunk) producing odd devices, like mechabacai and chainkatanas, really grabbed my attention.  But the deep dystopian thread became just a bit preachy at times, becoming a thinly veiled commentary on our current addiction to petroleum, portrayed way ‘over-the-top’ with an evil/mad Shogun in an uneasy partnership with the deluded Lotus Guild which has a near fatal throttle-hold on the Empire, the economy, the ecology and the people.  The Guild plot, though, has a tantalizing unanswered question hovering over most of the story, and I hope that this will, in later books, prove to ‘justify’ the extreme lengths the Guild goes to in their pilgrimage to avoid some future catastrophe.  A couple of their mantras: “Skin is strong, flesh is weak” and “The lotus must bloom” give hints but no insight, yet.

One of my review friends made mention of the melodrama and to be honest I guess I didn’t get that feeling after I finished reading it.  Yes, if I were to remove all the dystyopian bits, the magic and the steampunk, it would read like a bad romance novel.  But you could say that about quite a few science fiction, fantasy, mystery, etc. books.  If you want people to relate to your characters, you’ve got to make them human, and humans are flawed, and sometimes melodramatic.  I could almost file this on my young adult shelf because the main protagonist, Yukiko, is a young adult and this is somewhat of a coming of age tale for her.  Since adolescents excel at melodrama, I guess I didn’t expect anything else from Yukiko.  In light of this, I decided the majority of the book deserves closer to a three star rating.

The ending of Stormdancer, however, unreservedly gets five stars.  That’s why I initially gave it five stars.  All the pieces, plots and people come together to be at the right place at the right time to do the right thing.  And it actually has an ending.  Even though I knew it was part of a series going into it, Stormdancer stands alone.  Yes, it left me wanting to read more about Buruu and Yukiko, but I am completely satisfied with where their story paused.


I’ll compromise and give Stormdancer a four star rating because I really did like the world building and the main characters, Buruu (the thunder tiger aka griffin in western mythology) and Yukiko.  I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the Lotus War series.

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