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on 10 July 2017
I picked this up after really enjoying Jay Kristoff's Nevernight.

Stormdancer is a masterpiece of world building, originality and character. Set in steampunk Japan where 'chi', gathered from the seeds of lotus flowers, is the fuel on which ships and machinery run on, despite it slowly killing the land and people in it. Yukiko, from the Kitsune clan, is charged with bringing a Griffin to the Shogun of Shima. On her journey, secrets are revealed, and with the Griffen by her side, Yukiko realises she can make a difference to the Shima Isles.

I have seen other reviewers say that there are slow sections and that this ultimately turns into a rebel vs evil lord kind-of-novel, and these are both true - but for me, the world, characters and the author's beautiful prose kept me hooked and engaged enough that neither of these things mattered. Highly recommended.
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on 5 July 2017
I've just finished the same author's never night and wanted to read more. I enjoyed the story world steam punk Japanese and visual details which were very evocative. There were also interesting characters who like the other book were ambiguous and we'll drawn. I feel there is a similarity to Princess Mononoke in the mythical elements and nature verses industry theme, we'll handled without being preachy. Can't wait to start next book in the series.
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on 12 June 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Trying something new in the fantasy genre should be encouraged, but it is a tricky thing to do, as Jay Kristoff discovered with `Stormdancer'; a novel that combines Steampunk with Feudal Japan. Yukiko is the daughter of the country's leading hunter and when they are sent off to find a Thundergod (Griffin thing); they believe themselves on a hiding to nothing. However, Yukiko does find a Griffin and, in fact, becomes its friend. This is a journey of a girl becoming a young woman and opening her eyes to what is really going on around her.

After a slow start `Stormdancer' gets going once Buruu (the Griffin) is introduced. The telepathic link between Yukiko and Buruu is by far the best relationship in the book; what starts off as mutual necessity turns eventually into love for one another. It is the rest of the relationships that are a little shallow. Yukiko has boys fawning for her and a father she is disappointed by. Sensitively written, these relationships could have added depth to the book, personally I felt they were more like a soap opera and I could have done without them.

The other strong element in `Stormdancer' is the world that Kristoff designed. A blending of traditional Japanese ideals, but with some futuristic elements works well. I also liked the idea of a country polluting itself so badly and running an economic model that is not possible to sustain. There are slight issues with the fact that having created a great world, Kristoff does not do enough with it. Instead of exploring the epic nature of the country, he concentrates on the relatively petty problems of his characters. This is book one of a series and the story has great potential to be built upon. I was impressed that it actually felt pretty self-contained and could be read as a one off. An enjoyable world populated by slightly dull characters.
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on 21 September 2012
I admit to being slightly scared of starting this book. I don't think I've ever seen such a positive buzz about a book that hadn't (at the time) even been released yet. Book Bloggers and Advanced Copy readers were going wild about it; doing these amazing, gushing, hyperbolic reviews. This worried me, because it wouldn't be the first time that that's happened and then I've picked up the book myself and realised it's very prettily written, and highly descriptive, but is otherwise only an average story. And I can't get excited about the talent of a wordsmith alone. You have to tell me a good story as well. That's kind of my mantra when I'm reading: Tell the story, tell the story, tell the story. So when writers get too wordy or try and simile me into submission, I get turned off. Where did my story go?

And for the most part, I would be lying if I didn't say that Kristoff's writing is highly descriptive in places. More so, even, than some of the ones I ended up not liking previously. But holy freaking cow does he back that up with a great story, incredible world-building, phenomenal fantasy, sci-fi and steampunk elements, and to top it all off, a cast of fantastically diverse and complex characters!

A-maz-ing.

Of course, anything worth having is worth working hard for, and for around the first 50-60 or so pages of the book, I was working pretty damned hard! The Japanese language; mostly used for names of weapons, clothing, races, species, gods, myths and of course, character names, made reading difficult initially. I don't really like having to struggle so much, but after all the reviews I'd seen, I felt confident the pay-off would be worth it if I persevered. It was, and then some.

SSo, what is the book about? Well, it's a very complex world and plot and overall story arc, so I wouldn't even like to try summarising it. But I will tell you your main character is a young girl named Yukiko. She is an excellent strong and positive heroine who needs no hot boy brooding at her to make her appear so. It's not a coming-of-age story, exactly, but definitely an eye-opening journey. It set in a futuristic, or maybe alternate history? (not sure) Japan, where a plant called the Blood Lotus has been discovered and put to great and terrifying use. It powers the great machinery; the sky-ships, the war machines, even the brass and iron body armour of the samurai warriors. But the cost to the world and its citizens is immense. The choking fumes are killing everyone and everything, slowly but surely. Breathing masks and goggles need to be worn at all times. Man is playing a very dangerous and greedy game; thinking only of the benefits now, and not the consequences later. It's quite thought-provoking in that it's not that much of a stretch to imagine our species doing exactly this--especially such an industrious nation as Japan--and its message is clear, and the most ingenious use of entertainment to deliver it since WALL.E.

So, it looks like someone needs to shake things up a bit, right? But our Yukiko is just one girl, and only 16 at that. She has no power. But perhaps she has the strength after all (spot the Princess Bride quote), if only she has the help of oh, say for example, a badass THUNDER TIGER!

Buruu's character--and he definitely is a character--was a fantastic part of the story. His dialogue--which is telepathic and all done in shouty capitals--was excellent and often highly amusing. I loved him!

There were several other characters I grew to appreciate and as the epic final chapters came to a close, I found myself deeply concerned over their whereabouts and well-being. That's not to say it ends on a cliffhanger--it doesn't--but there are many unanswered questions and threads left unresolved and I NEED THE NEXT BOOK RIGHT NOW!

In summation, do I recommend this book? Hells yeah. Who to? I don't know... everyone? I'm not sure who to recommend it to specifically, because it's so unlike anything else with it's blend of genres. Even if you've read Steampunk before that will in no way prepare you for this book. My advice is to just go and buy it, if it's not for you, hand it to your friend and they'll probably read it, love it, and tell you you're a crazy person not to have loved every single syllable. And they'll probably give you a cookie or something. So everyone's a winner.

5 phenomenal Stars ★★★★★
ARC provided for an honest review.
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VINE VOICEon 25 December 2012
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This steampunk novel is set in a society which is heavily inspired by Japanese society and the myths of the culture. Its a world where samurai serve their Shogun unquestioningly, where mythical creatures exist and where powerful group of religious men called The Guild control all the technology and have a uneasy relationship with the ruling Shogun. Its a strange place possessing both new and old things, men fight with swords but some are powered by Chi, a fuel which is made from Lotus. There are skyships which travel across the sky, the pollution of the heavily used Chi has spoiled the land and destoryed the sky. In this world there is Yukiko, a young girl with the power to speak with animals a gift The Guild consider ¨ impure¨. With her father and friends she must survive in the harsh society, a corrupt place where the masses die in the streets, their bodies damaged by the pollution, unable to afford food. The land is ruled by the evil Shogun, a man without mercy or pity a man whose vanity and madness demands that he possess the last Arashitora a mythical creature of enormous power . After he is given the task of capturing the creature Yukiko joins her father on a dangerous trip far north, a trip that will forever change her life and results in direct confrontation with the Shogun himself.
The writing is sometimes glorious, sometimes steps over into being pretentious but its to be forgiven because the book is so inventive so fantastically exciting - its a great read. I will admit it took some getting into as the world is so strange but once you get into the story its a utterly engrossing read and i cant wait to see what happens in the next book. Also, points for including a helpful glossary of Japanese words.
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on 5 December 2012
It was so hard to put down! I would think about it all day, and find myself dreaming about it at night!! The scene at the beginning is more of a prologue, to show the reader a little bit about what the book would be like. However, I didn't find that annoying at all, but rather exciting, figuring out where the book was going in the beginning, and how Yukiko got to be in that situation.

The first 100 pages were also absolutely essential to the book! I loved them, and I really enjoyed the build-up and mystery behind everything that happened! It is the set-up of the whole story, the preparation for all the explanations and answers to come later, as the book develops. I loved finding out their stories and what led them to be the way they were. There was lots of mystery, and the questions were slowly answered, bit by bit, drawing out the suspense, and not in one big lump like in some books I have read.

The book was completely magical, with amazing creatures and amazing gifts. The ability to communicate with animals is a fantasy had by most children at some time, but to adults it seems far fetched and childish. However, in the book, it was done so well and in such a way that it seemed completely natural. Kind of like: "Oh right, of course..."

Yukiko, the Stormdancer of the title, is a really special character. She is strong and courageous, clever and, from what I gathered, a really good person. She stands up for all she loves and all she believes in. But, she is not without her faults, and that is really important in a protagonist, as a perfect main character is boring, and can't really develop. But, Yukiko is written in such a way that you do not dislike her for her faults, but rather encourage her to overcome them. I love how she is so special, but at the same time, she is utterly human, and i found that in some ways I could relate to the way that she thought and looked at things.

I really like the little bits of Japanese culture spread throughout the book, although at the beginning I had to keep checking what they meant in the Glossary (at the back of the book), but most of it was easy to understand, especially as I got deeper into the book, and became more invested in the characters.

The parallel universe was a really good idea, as it allowed for some aspects of life there to be the same as in our world, but it also allowed for things to be completely different, making it possible for the reader to be shocked and in awe, but also relate to things.

I loved this book, and found it wonderful and inspirational, among many other good describing words, but I won't bore you with them. Overall, this book made me happy and sad, scared and exhilarated, constantly waiting for what would happen next. It made me cry and be glad to be who I am. Overall, Stormdancer is a really special, inspirational and thought-provoking book.
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on 26 February 2013
Well, if there's one book that has had a hype machine going for it this year, it's Jay Kristoff's Stormdancer. No, not a hype machine. More like a hype combine harvester. I've seen this book being talked about so much over the past year, and naturally, I bought into the hype. It had to be good if so many people were talking about it, right?

Stormdancer tells the story of Yukiko Kitsune, who joins her father on a hunt for a rare beast - an arashitora, which literally translates to 'thunder tiger'. (Basically, a griffin.)

Yukiko and her father take to the skies in an airship, and succeed in capturing the supernatural beastie, but their new cargo uses his powers to cause the ship to crash into the mountains. While there, Yukiko earns the trust of the griffin (which she names Buruu), fights demons, and learns of a conspiracy to take down the shogun.

And that's the story in a nutshell.

Now, I really feel like disclaiming this review with a big old 'it's not you, it's me', or 'this just wasn't my cup of tea'. But that's what I find really strange about this book. How could I not enjoy this? It's got telepathic samurai girls, griffins, demons, Shinto mythology, a dystopian steampunk setting, and it's set in feudal Japan! That alone sets it apart from most of what you see on the YA shelves of any given book shop. I like anime, manga, and all the other typical nerdy Japanese things, I used to practice kendo and karate, and I used to take Japanese after-school classes!

So, I don't quite know why Stormdancer wasn't my particular cup of koucha.

To be fair, Stormdancer does have a lot of good things going for it. This book has some really beautiful prose at points, it's always nice to see a badass action heroine, and I genuinely liked Buruu, the griffin. If you do want a steampunk story with a Japanese setting, you wouldn't go too wrong with Stormdancer. That genre is a very small field, after all.

My main problem with the book was that it was so incredibly... boring. It's not the kind where you feel like the author has taken a vacuum cleaner to any interesting parts of the story, it's just very clunky, and certain parts (the beginning, the time on the airship) drag on forever. Thankfully, they get less clunky as the story goes on, and the story nicely wrapped itself up in the last 30 pages, but still. Damn.

You know the beautiful prose I spoke of precisely two paragraphs ago? That is a plus about this book, but... moderation, folks. Moderation. Sometimes while reading this book, I felt like I was wading through a peat bog. The writing just didn't keep my full attention, and I just longed for simplicity at points.

Another qualm I have with this book is the lack of research. It's not that the author has no idea about Japanese culture, or historical authenticity. We're not looking for that, of course. Stephen King once rightly said that research should be firmly in the back of the story, because nobody wants to read a dissertation on the New York sewer system for the sake of authenticity if your characters have to pass through those murky waters. (Paraphrased from On Writing, Mr. King's excellent memoir.)

However, Kristoff really fell foul of this rule. In the first part of the book, we are subjected to very, very lengthy passages about Shinto mythology. Raijin, Susano-ou, Lady Izanami, Amaterasu, etc. It's nice to see that the author knows the legends and mythology, but I soon dreaded every moment where a character would sit down and pretty much say: "Let me tell you a story..." Telling stories around a fire or holding an impromptu history lesson may seem like a good way to weave exposition into the story from a screenwriting point of view, but it just doesn't work nine times out of ten. Nor does it work when characters bounce these stories back and forth between each other, mostly in the first act of this novel.

Other parts of the research were just... just... argh! Look at the second question in this interview:

"I've had people ask if I did a degree in Japanese studies, but the closest I've come is reading all six volumes of Akira in a week. Maybe I'd picked up a lot of detail through film and manga that I've consumed down through the years, but Wikipedia was really my go-to-guy. I have a friend who lives in Japan who I bounce ideas off too."

Wikipedia - your 'go-to guy'. Let that sink in.

Stormdancer itself seems to take place in this weird pseudo-Japan, called 'Shima'. There are pandas, people seem to use Cantonese expressions of exasperation, and there are parts where characters talk about how a word has x number of syllables - when in Japanese it actually has y amount of syllables - and people bow the way a kung fu practitioner would to their sifu, and there's not much detail paid to the clothing of the period.

Our main heroine Yukiko is put into a juunihitoe at one point - a twelve-layered kimono that only ladies of the court wore. Yukiko also shrugs on a thin kimono at one point. There's no such thing as a thin kimono; a yukata maybe, but not a kimono. People might call an Asian-style robe or a long silky cardigan a 'kimono' in the West, but not in Japan. Kimono are extremely expensive, for one thing, and they normally require assistance to get into, whether it's a full-on ceremonial kimono, or a furisode (worn by unmarried women). But what do you expect when this novel was informed by a glut of anime and Wikipedia research? (There's a reason why university professors scream at their students if they source Wikipedia in their essays!)

The speech patterns were another bugbear for me. People say 'hai' all the time, and it just sounds really weird. There's also the matter of the author's constant use of 'sama' to mean 'sir' or 'milord'. On its own. In Japanese, honorifics are added onto the end of somebody's name, and although there are some honorifics where you don't use somebody's name (i.e., senpai), it's still the general rule. Yukiko would be referred to as, say, 'Kitsune-sama'. Not just 'sama'.

I worry for the potential readership of this book. I knew some of the words here and there (shogun, uwagi, tantou, oni), but everything else I had to Google-fu. Only after finishing this book did I find out that there actually was a glossary. This isn't exactly good for those reading the e-book, like I did. It forces you to jump back and forth all the time, and I can imagine it's very annoying reading the physical copy and having to flip to the glossary every two minutes because you don't know some Japanese word. I imagined reading this as somebody who knew nothing about the Japanese culture or language, and it was very frustrating. Shall I write something in French to illustrate my point? I think I will. Forgive me if it's a little bit rusty.

'Yukiko sensed quelquechose. She knew it must have been le dieu de la guerre, but she couldn't be too certain. Buruu, le griffon who helped her escape from a monstre earlier, cocked his head.

MADEMOISELLE INSECTE COCHON SINGE CHIEN, SHALL WE MAKE CAMP?

Oui, thought Yukiko. I will sleep on it. Le dieu de la guerre will give me une vision de rêve.'

When I read a fantasy novel, I don't mind having a small glossary and/or map. Eragon's glossary was nice and succint, and I only had to look at the map once or twice. With Stormdancer, though, this went way overboard. I just don't see what would have been wrong with writing: 'dagger' in place of 'tantou'. Or 'tunic' in place of 'uwagi'. 'Demon' in place of 'oni'. Looking back, I only know some of these words because I got into obscure anime/J-drama with rather historical settings. Not the kind of thing your average anime fan would know, let alone somebody with no experience in Japanese whatsoever.

In summation, the first act was definitely the most problematic. The world-building and mythology becomes incredibly dense, and I found it really hard to care or connect with any of the characters. The second and third acts are slightly better, but there's a lot of chunky prose to get through, and some stand-out moments which may annoy you if you know a bit about Japanese language/culture/history. The action scenes were always fun to read, and there's plenty of badassery going on (hell, I love the idea of the chain-katana!), and Yukiko and Buruu are two very likeable main characters. It's just a shame this awesome concept fell so short for me. 2.5/5.
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on 6 November 2013
A good mix of traditional Japanese culture with new age machinery and weapons.

I enjoyed how the suspense was kept throughout while allowing the story to continue.

Can't wait to read the next instalment
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on 4 May 2013
Sometimes, I think there must be something wrong with me. When I sit looking over the myriad - well, 36! - glowing reviews for an over-hyped novel such as Kristoff's 'Stormdancer', I'm left feeling utterly bemused.

Let's start by saying that - surprise! - I didn't enjoy this novel. It is in fact remarkable that it comes across as so intolerably dull, despite blending feudal Japan with steampunk, mythical beasts, and a tantō-wielding heroine capable of telepathy! That, surely, is a recipe for unbridled success. And yet, no! From the very first chapter onwards, I found 'Stormdancer' to be tedious to the extreme.

For one, it is not very well written. Kristoff labours his prose with great lashes of description, endless paragraphs, which, standing on their own, might come across as well structured and occasionally lyrical, but are instead piled one after another, bogging the story down to such an extent that it takes over 100 pages before we meet the griffon, Buruu, who's character is secondary only to Yukiko herself. From this point on the story does pick up, though it's got to be said that it counts for little, given its prior level of sloth. I honestly think 'Stormdancer' could have done with being around 200 pages long. One needs a really good reason to tell such a limited story in more than that; Kristoff's reason is that he's long winded and indulgent.

And as for characterisation... Urgh, Yukiko is so uninspired. She might have special powers and a thundertiger as companion, but that's about as far as Kristoff goes towards making her interesting, let alone likeable. There has long been a problem with fantasy heroes/heroines being overtly liberal, often laughably unsuited to the medieval-esque societies in which they've supposedly been brought up. Authors often get away with it, and I don't usually mind too much. Yukiko, however, has got to stand as one of the most anachronistic characters I've ever come across. She is clearly of our 21st century world, concerned with climate change and the the lives of those less fortunate. I found this aspect frightfully jarring. If this wasn't enough, she is furthermore simply dull. You can rely on her to do the right thing, and think the right thing. She was for the most part entirely two dimensional. Also, providing Yukiko with a love-interest in the shape of Lord Hiro, seemed quite beyond Kristoff. It's been a while since I've come across such a bungled and unneeded 'romance'.
Other characters are actually slightly better. Buruu himself is very likeable, if out and out nicked from 'How to Train Your Dragon''s Toothless. The best written and most interesting character was Yukiko's father, Masaru. He is wonderfully flawed and I found myself caring for him most of all. Actually, the story told from his perspective would possibly have been superior.

I found the world building itself to be limited. The actual concept is, I think, a great one. Who wouldn't want to read about a steampunky feudal Japan? It's not altogether original, and certainly not to the extent some readers have made it out to be. A lot of it, for instance, is directly lifted from Japanese mythology. (In fact, Kristoff actually seems a little smug on occasion, insisting on having his character 'tell stories' to one another in order to reveal his knowledge of Japanese culture!) As for the rest, it was mostly fairly generic. There's the Empire's capital, and then an obliterated land scarred by the nation's addiction to technology and the 'lotus' fuel on which it runs. All the usual tropes of a steampunk world abound, from gas masks and flying ships, and samurai in clockwork mech suits. It should come across as wonderfully indulgent, and, I admit, there are occasions when it does. But personally I never found enough originality to anything. It was all strangely familiar, with content lifted from countless other sources, particularly anime and manga.

Finally, 'Stormdancer's plot was near enough to non-existent. Most of it is given away in the blurb, and from there it follows the generic fantasy outline of good versus evil that I won't bang on about. I waited and waited for a twist that might surprise me, trusting to reviews that I was going to be left gasping at some point, bowled over by a move I hadn't expected. But no. By the last chapter my cynicism was merely confirmed. 'Stormdancer' is a victim of fantasy's deadliest pitfall; predictability. Kristoff's utter banality wasn't enough to provide the distraction needed to make this novel either interesting or enjoyable. I can count on three fingers the number of occasions when I went, "Huh, that's cool." For the rest of the time I was slogging away, hoping and hoping, but only ever getting increasingly bogged down.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I suspect that if I'd read this in my teens then I would have loved it. A complex pseudo-Japanese alternate reality. A girl who mind-speaks to beasts and bonds with a fabulous mythic animal. A not-so-subtle romantic subplot. Strong eco-warrior overtones, heavily critical of planet-destroying industries and the corporate monstrosities they inspire. The 18 year old me would have loved it.

The 46 year old me wanted to abandon it after the first couple of chapters. So much of the core concept has been done before, from Rosemary Manning's Green Smoke to Anne McCaffrey's Dragonflight (The Dragon Books). And the whole drunkard-but-tragic dad, whiny-child-coming-of-age thing just felt tiresome from my perspective. I also remembered why I stopped reading so much quest / sword-n-sorcery fiction: it's because there's just so much narrative exposition to plod through in the first book, before you get to the plot or any interesting character development. Not only was every third word either made-up or foreign terminology - worse - I had adolescent eco-angst rammed down my throat at every moment. I read fiction to escape - briefly - from the nasty reality that is mass extinction, loss of habitat, human cruelty and over-population.
Could have coped with all of that if the plot had galloped along and if the action had been deftly wrought and compelling. But instead it just trudged through a series of predictable encounters without a credible hint of risk to the heroine.

I hoped to be able to hop onto the back of a griffin with this book; soar to the skies and run righteously amok with a katana, smiting the transgressors. But even the magnificent thunderbeast - which should have been utterly alien and weird - swiftly succumbed to the usual anthropomorphism. I plodded to the end, but only just.
Either this book is too young for me, or I'm too old for it.

6/10
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