Title: Stormdancer (The Lotus War #1)
Author: Jay Kristoff
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Review copy: the library
Availability: September 18, 2012
Summary: 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 hunters of Shima’s imperial court are charged by their Shōgun to capture a thunder tiger – a legendary creature, half-eagle, half-tiger. 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 Shōgun’s hunt, she finds herself stranded: a young woman alone in Shima’s last wilderness, with only a furious, crippled thunder tiger for company. But together, the pair will form an indomitable friendship, and rise to challenge the might of an empire. [Image and summary via Goodreads]
Review: To be honest, I was skeptical of this book’s self-proclaimed status as “Japanese steampunk.”* Still, I decided to give it chance because I love griffins and the book blurb promised me griffins. Sadly, my skepticism and doubts were not unfounded — Stormdancer’s use of Japanese culture as a convenient exotic setting was off-putting, to say the least.
The book takes place in Shima Isles (“Island” isles? Hm.) where Yukiko befriends a griffin (“thunder tiger”) and goes up against the dark conspiracies afoot in the empire. I did end up loving Buruu the griffin, who is pretty much the best part of the entire book. The prose was extremely detailed and occasionally beautiful, but this was also the book’s failing. The prose was so jampacked with detail that it felt like a wikipedia article full of feudal Japan factoids had somehow fused with the book, which brings me to–
Unfortunately, the book’s casual treatment of Japan as an exotic fantasy backdrop prevented me from enjoying the story. This ranges from the generic Asian-y atmosphere of the book to the offensively cavalier use of Japanese culture. In addition, Japanese words are misused and mistranslated in both the text and the glossary. Throughout the book, there’s a strong sense of cultural appropriation and shallow, careless research.
As the saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child. Well, I believe this saying also applies to books. When it came to creating a book that respects the culture it uses as its setting, this village fell down on the job.
Recommendation: Just skip it.
For more in-depth reviews: the Book Smugglers and Dear Author
Further reading: Ellen Oh on The Importance of Proper Research
*Steampunk set in shogunate Japan is sort of like setting steampunk in medieval England instead of Victorian England. Um, what?
2 Replies to “Mini-review: Stormdancer”
Thank you for taking the bullet and reading this. I had heard the same criticisms you made about the book as well, which saddened me greatly. The writer completely failed in doing something that could have been epic.
Argh, yeah, I feel like I would’ve loved this type of novel (griffins FTW) but that kind of cultural appropriation is just impossible to take. From what I’ve heard & read, the language is mangled so badly that it defies belief. Glad to have you reinforce my decision to pass on this one!
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