It is hard to find fault with this novel. All the elegance of 'Across The Nightingale Floor' with the epic spirit of something like 'Princess Mononoke'.
The story is set in an alternate Japan, where a toxic industrial revolution has produced huge technological leaps but dire environmental costs. The 'arashitora', the griffin, is the mouthpiece of the story's environmental theme - even paraphrasing a famous Native American saying at one point - but the theme is never overly-polemical nor didactic.
Kristoff's prose is clever and evocative, if occasionally a little too-over describing. His steampunk Japan is highly imaginative, with samurai warriors armoured in robotic suits and wielding chainsaw katanas, and airships filling the sky. Most menacing of all are the Guildsmen, the brains behind the technology, permanently encased in their suits and described as insectoid beings. There are obvious links with Japanese mecha here, but Kristoff has produced a story that transcends such roots.
With all this fascinating invention, one of the main characters - the arashitora - is almost eclipsed. But his character is quite delightful, all his animal mannerisms captured. He reminded me of Toothless from 'How To Train Your Dragon' in more ways than one.
A truly accomplished debut novel, and one that I think and hope will go far. My only problem with it in fact is the front cover - so bland! The blurb gives away the griffin, so why not display it in all its glory on the cover?