Review: Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff

Wednesday, August 28, 2013
Title: Stormdancer
Author: Jay Kristoff
Genre: steampunk, fantasy
Series: The Lotus War #1
Pages: 451
Published: September 1, 2012
Source: Purchased
Rating: 3.5/5

Griffins are supposed to be extinct. So when Yukiko and her warrior father Masaru are sent to capture one for the Shogun, they fear that their lives are over. Everyone knows what happens to those who fail him, no matter how hopeless the task.
But the mission proves far less impossible, and far more deadly, than anyone expects – and soon Yukiko finds herself stranded: a young woman alone in her country's last wilderness, with only a furious, crippled griffin for company. But trapped together in the forest, Yukiko and Buruu soon discover a friendship that neither of them expected.
Meanwhile, the country around them verges on the brink of collapse. A toxic fuel is slowly choking the land; the omnipotent, machine-powered Lotus Guild is publicly burning those they deem Impure; and the Shogun cares about nothing but his own dominion. Yukiko has always been uneasy in the shadow of power, when she learns the awful truth of what the Shogun has done, both to her country and to her own family she's determined to do something about it.
Returning to the city, Yukiko and Buruu plan to make the Shogun pay for his crimes – but what can one girl and a flightless griffin do against the might of an empire?

Reviewed by Danielle

It’s not often that a steamfantasty set anywhere other than Industrial Revolution London comes along, but Jay Kristoff has stepped out of the box with the story of Yukiko, a sixteen year old girl in a feudal-esque Japan-inspired world where griffins, demons, and all manner of mystical creatures have died out. That is, until the Shogun dreams of a thunder-tiger and sends our heroine, along with her dad, his girlfriend, and his heavy, to capture him a mythological beast. And that’s when everything goes, (even further,) to hell.

Picking a score for this book is extremely hard. I liked the plotline and the main characters, Yukiko and Buruu. In fact, I really liked most of the characters. I liked Aisha and Michi and their alternate view of female strength. I liked Kin, a character made of contradictions. I didn’t like Hiro, but are we even supposed to like that cardboard cutout? And so, I spent the entire book utterly torn between enjoying Yukiko’s growth and strength and being horrified at some of the problems I’ve detailed a little later on.

Again, I thought Yukiko was awesome and Burruu, the best. Every scene with them together made it very hard for me to stay mad at the book. I thought Kristoff did a really good job of exploring their growing bond and how they temper and change each other. I loved the scenes at the palace and the final battles. I loved the flashbacks to Yukiko’s childhood and the reveal of her talent. I thought the ending was phenomenally done, with a scene I’m not ashamed to say made me emotional. So it’s with definite sadness that I say, it’s all marred by the fact that the book is racist, sexist, and inexpertly written. I don’t think it’s malicious, but it’s definitely problematic.

It’s poorly researched, with modern loanwords like salarimen between Edo period-inspired samurais and Chinese phrases and bows. The fact that the author said in an interview that his research consists of manga and wikipedia is readily apparent. (Source.) There’s a lot of leeway to be given in alternate history/steampunk stories, but especially given the way Westerners invalidate East Asia’s culture by confusing China and Japan’s, (and Korea and Thailand and Lao’s...) histories, it’s impossible for me to ignore the racist implications.

The author’s descriptions of the female characters are almost fetish-y, emphasising their “exoticness” in descriptions of their “hooded, almond-shaped” eyes and “midnight-black [hair] against pale, smooth skin”. It’s never more apparent than the awful bath scene. Not content to just be a recreation of an 80’s teen farce, it takes an otherwise strong character, removes all of her agency, and actually shifts the narration to a man literally gazing on her body via peep hole. It’s like if Porky’s was actually about the girls in the shower trying to get into ivy-league colleges, only to keep the famous peeping scene exactly as filmed.

The author gets stuck on a turn of phrase. “Blue-black smoke” is used four times in the first ten pages and twenty-one times over the entirety of the novel. Likewise, “aiya”, which isn’t even Japanese, is used thirteen times and there are twenty-three covered-fist bows. (Again, that’s associated with Chinese martial arts, not Japanese.) 

It’s okay to like problematic books, but you have to acknowledge where they go wrong. I like Stormdancer. I’m not saying you can’t enjoy it, too. I’m very interested in continuing the adventures of the Arashi-no-ko and her brother. I’m just hopeful that by the time I get to Kinslayer, Kristoff has worked out some of his debut kinks. And invested in a history textbook.


  1. I remember you were really looking forward to this book. Well written review. I love that you can see the flaws, acknowledge the flaws, maybe even be disgusted by the flaws, but still enjoy elements of the story.

  2. Oh dear. Repetitive phrases are one of my biggest pet peeves. It will destroy a book for me ... that it annoyed you enough to count them does not bode well for me and this book.

  3. Oooh this is on my to read list! Hmm..I see a few problems I may not be able to overlook....lovely. Great review!


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