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?
Anyone who has known me in the past year knows how high my expectations for Stormdancer were. In the months that led up to my reading of it, it had taken on mythic proportions of awesomeness in my mind, reminding me yet again why one of the worst things we can do to a novel is expect it to be more than a book, because Stormdancer was unable to live up to the huge hype I’d built for it. Honestly, very few books could have.
I did like this one. It was definitely in the top half of books I’ve read this year so far. The world-building is fantastic, the characters are impossible not to become invested in, Yukiko is a strong heroine, and Buruu is the epitome of what awesome is. There are some intense chapters in Stormdancer that suck you in so completely you’ll find yourself coming out of a daze when they’re over, momentarily confused to find that you are not, in fact, in the streets or wilderness of Shima.
But…. Ah, the dreaded “but”.
First and most pressingly, this novel is dense. And I mean, dense. There are long paragraphs dedicated to the Japanese Japan-ness of the setting littering this novel. (Though I feel compelled to add that Stormdancer takes place in a land known as Shima, and while it draws heavily on Japanese influences, it is not, in fact, Japan. Or any existing country, for that matter.) I’m not one to shy away from wordy novels and flowery descriptions, but when I read pages and pages of writing describing various Asian terms, it take me out of the story somewhat. Instead of simply saying, “She tied the sash tightly around her dress”, we’re subjected to the Asian term for said sash and dress, complete with long descriptions of them that are both unnecessary and excessive. Now I know what you’re thinking, He was just trying to set the tone!, but I’m sorry. I don’t read a novel for the setting of the story, I read it for the story, and when the story is paused for lengthy descriptions of words I can’t even always pronounce, it’s going to take away from my enjoyment.
I read a few reviews for Stormdancer while I was reading it that drew into question the authenticity of the Japan-based world of Shima. While I’m inclined to forgive things like wardrobe and land layout, even honor codes and religions being slightly changed to suit the story (which, as far as I know, didn’t actually happen in this), I can’t forgive misused language. Throughout this novel, two Japanese words are abundantly common; Sama and Hai. I don’t claim to know much about Japanese culture, but if it was so easy for me to find that he was contextually misusing both words, I can’t imagine it would have been difficult for Mr. Kristoff with any amount of in-depth research. I don’t want to judge the story based on something so minor, especially since Shima is not, in fact, Japan, but…I kind of can’t help it. It bugged me. I wish it didn’t, but it did.
I’ve heard so many awesome things about Stormdancer and its author, Jay Kristoff, that I wanted to be able to whole-heartedly throw my 5-star rating into the mix, to vocalize my love for this book and recommend it to everyone who’s looking for a good, highly original story. While I certainly wouldn’t discourage anyone from reading this and would still recommend it to a certain group of people, I can’t, in all honesty, say I loved this book like most of my friends did.
But boy, if I was ever tempted to lie in a review and say I did, it would be with Stormdancer.
Stormdancer – 3.5 out of 5 stars