Sunday, March 24, 2013

Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff - Book Review

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?

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


  1. Interesting review. The misused words, that's a cardinal sin for me, when its so easy to research nowadays, there is no excuse for it. And if you are writing a Japanese book, would you not ask a Japanese person to proof it, just to see if it 'felt right'. I'm sorry the book was a let down, I wonder if it was a book you picked up having never heard anything of it before would you have had a different reading experience? Hype can be a books worst enemy.

    I hate when a book lets me down. It happes me more so with a favourite author as I have grown to trust them and when a clanger comes along, I'm unprepared and nearly ready to pretend to myself that I'm enjoying. But when I have to force myself to read and find myself skimming, I know it's just not for me.

    1. From what I understand, he did have a Japenese friend he ran the big things by. I don't know if he just never thought to bring up the language, or decided to use it anyway, or what. But it just kind of felt like a cop-out to me.

      I think I would have given it the same rating either way, but instead of feeling disappointed by it I'd have been entertained. 3.5 stars from me is still an enjoyable read, just not one of the best ones.

      Thanks, Trush! :D And I totally relate with the favorite author thing, that's exactly what happened to me with Richelle Mead's Bloodlines series.

  2. Aww I'm sorry it didn't meet your expectations, and I know I probably contributed a bit to getting those so far up there. There certainly was a lot of setting and descriptions of the Japanese elements, but I think I probably had less trouble with that because I'm fascinated by Japanese culture - and while it's not all equally accurate, I love how vivid he made the world. He did misuse some Japanese words, but I easily looked over that in favor of the beautiful story. I hope you'll still read the sequel as well :)

    1. Haha, actually I already had unrealistic expectations before you read it. Everyone on gr was screaming its praises, and the blurb looked crazy interesting. You just added a bit of anticipation. :p Lol.

      I don't know much at all about Japenese culture, so maybe that's why the descriptions seemed excessive. As far as the misused words, it's just one of my pet-peeves I guess. I feel like if you're going to be using words from another language, you should be using them right.

      I'll definitely read the sequel. Especially if it has more Buruu and Kin. I did like Stormdancer, just not quite as much as I'd hoped, y'know?

      Thanks, Debby!

  3. I love the cover of this book so of course it captures my attention everywhere I see. I know what you mean about the danger of having such high expectations of a book and it failing to meet your expectations. At least you were honest about it!

    Honestly, I'm pretty ignorant of Japanese culture so I'm not sure if any of the things that bothered you would actually bother me. The one thing that might slow me down is the excessive descriptions, because I too am a bit more of plot person. Hmm... We'll have to see!

    1. I know, the cover is the reason I refused to wait for the redesigned paperback copy! I'm clueless about most of Japanese culture, too, which is actually I think why I didn't appreciate the dense descriptions as much.

      I wouldn't discourage you from reading it, but try to pick it up at a time when you have a bit more book patience. It takes awhile to really get started, and it's not at all what I'd call a quick read. I actually think classifying it as YA may be misleading because of that; most YA books do have that quick quality to them. It reads more like epic fantasy steeped in steampunk, in my opinion.


As you may or may not know, life is eating up way too much of my spare time right now, so pretty please don't hate me if it takes me a few days to get back to your wonderful comments. I read each and every one from my phone, and they always make my day. <3