Author: Jay Kristoff
Release Date: September 18, 2012
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books (Macmillan imprint)
The Shima Imperium is on the verge of an environmental collapse: the skies are red with blood, the land is choked with with toxic pollution, and the great spirit animals that once roamed have departed forever. The hunters of the imperial court have been charged to find a thunder tiger, a half-eagle half-tiger creature. Yukiko is a child of the Fox clan, possessor of a talent that would see her executed by the Lotus Guild. Accompanying her father on the hunt, she soon finds herself stranded in Shima's lost wildnerness, with only a furious and crippled thunder tiger for company. Even though she can hear his thoughts, even though she saved his life, she's sure he'd rather see her dead than help him. Working together, though, they could have the power to challenge an empire.
Stormdancer is lush with inspiration from Japan, its culture, language, and mythology, coming together with a strong heroine to become a compelling new fantasy with steampunk and Asian elements. Even with all the Japanese words, customs, and mythology, it still felt like it was taking place in a different country, on a different world.
Now, fantasy novels often have a tendency to be ripe with backstory and information, which is understandable. World-building, especially for epic fantasy, can be extensive. Unfortunately for this book, I did find the beginning rather slow to start. It stemmed from the combination of elaborate description and establishing the setting and its residents, customs, and culture. Once the book got into the main story, the main plot, it moved along at a much faster pace. There are also a fair amount of Japanese terms, and the alternating back and forth between the Japanese and the English, like Kitsune/Fox, can be complicated if you don't know what the term means. In that way, I wish the author had stayed consistent.
Yukiko is very much a tomboy, a rough around the edges kind of girl, a taking care of her father when he's drunk and high on lotus kind of girl. Odds are she will be a fighter, looking at the cover that features a wicked tattoo going down her right arm and that tattooed arm drawing a sword. Of course, it all depends on whether or not she knows how to use it.
The thunder tiger is a very interesting creature pulled from myth and legend and made flesh and blood by the author. There are a fair number of Japanese myths involving animals, dragons and foxes and cats and the like, but this was a first for me, seeing the half-eagle half-tiger (also known as a griffin) as the main mythological creature. It was refreshing to discover that the thunder tiger had his own personality, as linear as it was. The relationship between him and Yukiko was one of the highlights of the book for me.
The world in this book is rather interesting, and one thing constantly bothered me. The lotus. I wanted to know what it was, where it came from, all I got was that it's taken over a lot of the landscape and it's smoked as a drug like opium. It also doesn't sound like a good thing, even though the Lotus Guild is in favour of it blooming.
The book is marketed as a Japanese-style steampunk fantasy, and it might only be my fault as a reader not connecting things at the beginning, but I didn't realize what the steampunk aspect was until close to the end. It wasn't that it was hidden, I just didn't connect the metal suits of the Guildsmen with steampunk. Perhaps it was Yukiko and the thunder tiger that eclipsed the steampunk parts of the book, making it feel more like an epic fantasy with some random mechanical flair.
Even though the book was slow to start and rather heavy with world-building backstory, I believe that fans of epic fantasy will enjoy it, especially those looking for an Asian twist on the standard epic fantasy that often has British roots. Also, those who enjoy books about teenage heroines who fight with a sword and have a large magical animal companion might want to give it a read.
(I received an e-galley of this title to review from St. Martin's Press/Macmillan through NetGalley.)