Publisher: Tor UK (2012)
Format: Hardcover | 352 pages
Genre(s): Fantasy, Steampunk, Young Adult
Description (GR): "A DYING LANDThe Shima Imperium verges on the brink of environmental collapse; an island nation once rich in tradition and myth, now decimated by clockwork industrialization and the machine-worshipers of the Lotus Guild. The skies are red as blood, the land is choked with toxic pollution, and the great spirit animals that once roamed its wilds have departed forever.AN IMPOSSIBLE QUESTThe hunters of Shima’s imperial court are charged by their Shōgun to capture a thunder tiger—a legendary creature, half-eagle, half-tiger. But any fool knows the beasts have been extinct for more than a century, and the price of failing the Shōgun is death.A SIXTEEN YEAR OLD GIRLYukiko is a child of the Fox clan, possessed of a talent that if discovered, would see her executed by the Lotus Guild. Accompanying her father on the Shōgun’s hunt, she finds herself stranded: a young woman alone in Shima’s last wilderness, with only a furious, crippled thunder tiger for company. Even though she can hear his thoughts, even though she saved his life, all she knows for certain is he’d rather see her dead than help her.But together, the pair will form an indomitable friendship, and rise to challenge the might of an empire."
WARNING: Contains SPOILERS!
I liked the overall concept and most of the world building, but some things just didn't work for me. I even made a list, which I will present later, but first, some context.
I've read a few reviews that mentioned the fact that Stormdancer gets a lot of things wrong when it comes to Japanese culture, myth and even language. I admit that while I do like anime and manga and have read a few books set in Japan, I don't know enough about their culture (especially historically) to judge if most things described in this book are right or not. But even so I've noticed some things that bothered me (or at least I think I did. I might be wrong, it may be all a matter of perception).
1. Setting - so Stormdancer takes place in an alternate version of Japan called "Shima". The author could have gotten away with the frequent incorrections if this "fantasy" land wasn't so obviously Japan. You have Daimios (feudal lords), Japanese supernatural creatures, Japanese deities, the same creation myth, the same society structure and hierarchy and even the same language. Shima is Japan which makes all the factual errors this book might or not contain very bad.
The ones I detected (very easy to spot, really) were the erroneous use of "sama" (any anime addict knows this is a suffix, it can't be used by itself) the use of the word "aiya" (which I've heard in Taiwanese dramas, I think, but never in Japanese dramas) and the bow Yukiko was always doing (with the fist in the palm) that seemed right out of "Mulan" (and Mulan, as we all know is Chinese).
2. Cultural Values - here's the part that bothered me. While this alternate Japan seems to have most of the values of Feudal Japan samurais that follow the Code of Bushido, rigid social hierarchy, rigid social rituals, respect for honor and servitude, these same values are considered... well, bad. The main character thinks they are the reason why people are oppressed and boasts the qualities of "revolution" and "rebellion" which are typically more western ways of thought.
The heroine despises her own culture, as seen when she is invited by the Shogun's sister to tea and says she doesn't have time for such silliness and all the rituals. This disregard for the culture the author is trying to portray bothered me.
3. Characters - to me they were another weak point of the book. They were two-dimensional and lacked development. They seemed to be there to further the plot more than anything else. For example, Hideo the minister was complacent, but why was he complacent we never know. He was complacent simply to be an obstacle to our heroine. The Guild people and the Shogun were simply evil without explanation. They were evil so that the heroine could fight them. The rebels were rebels so they could "open the heroine's eyes". Even Yukiko had little substance.
I had a hard time connecting to any of the characters.
4. Romance - two of my "pet peeves" made an appearance: insta-love (well, insta-lust, but still... the love interest was pretty hollow, no personality whatsoever) and a love triangle. The author didn't handle the romance part well at all. I'd have preferred no romance at all. Enough said.
5. Writing Style - too verbose, which made the reading difficult. Some things were just overly described and it served no purpose.
So why the three stars? For the potential. The world building is interesting and the story could be good if it was more layered and deep. As it was, the "message" (industrialization is bad, yadda, yadda, we're literally paying for it with our blood, etc) was about as subtle as a freight train. This book could have been great, but I think a little more research and character development were needed before it was 'released'. The concept is pretty good and the whole "steampunk" part of the story was well-constructed and imaginative; I wasn't too fond of the rest, though.
A disappointing read, mainly because I had such high expectations.