Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Stormdancer has such a distinctive feel that impacted me as a reader. The mix of rich Japanese-like culture and folklore with a dystopian twist. The main character is a brave but troubled young woman who earns my loyalty and encourages me to stand up for what I personally believe in.
But the one thing that really won me over was the connection between Yukiko and the arashitora, who she names Buruu. I’ve been an animal person since I was a wee lassie, and the bond between humans and animals is very important in my life. To see the love and trust that grows between Yukiko and Buruu, and their devotion almost brought tears to my eyes, because I am a true sap about stuff like that. Buruu is a majestic and beautiful creature, although fiercely lethal and untamable, as a legendary creature should be. I loved that although Buruu doesn’t tame down or change in his essential nature, he grows as the bond with Yukiko develops. They teach each other things important for their journey.
The world of the Shima Isles is a dark one. The place hovers on the brink of ecological disaster, and many crimes against humanity occur daily. The Shogun is clearly mad, and his power without limitation. On top of that is the Guild, which strives to make more of their poison lotus, despite its cost to their world and the people within it, and burns people who they view as heretics, probably all of which are innocent. In this kind of world, it’s hard to have hope, which is why Yukiko begins this story as a sullen and miserable young woman. She’s lost more than she can reconcile, feels the personal sting of betrayal daily, and it’s wounded her emotionally. What a good time for Buruu to come along, although their connection is not without anguish for them both. But in this world, personal sacrifice is necessary to right the terrible wrongs occurring. In the end, they are healing and comfort and safety to each other in a dark place. Together, they will not be defeated.
Stormdancer is a very good book. While it took time for me to get into the flow of terminology and world-building, I appreciate the author’s efforts to create such an immersive, fascinating world. The Japanese cultural elements appealed highly to me. Of course, I loved the strong young heroine, among many strong capable women who fight for their world just as the men do. The action scenes brought to mind some of my favorite martial arts/fantasy movies. I admit I am a serious fan of swordplay, and this book has some beautiful and bloody evidence of this martial art, along with others. I could see this is a gorgeous anime-style film, but I hope that it is made in live action, with its all Asian cast. I would definitely pay money to see this on the big screen.
While I agree that is definitely for young adults and for older readers who enjoy young adult fiction, I like that Kristoff doesn’t curtail his writing merely to fit in the current YA trend. The violence is quite descriptive and there is some sensual content (although fade to black). The storyline is quite dark, with the ecological sabotage for power and money, the cruelty and violence against so called enemies of the state, and the disregard for the welfare and needs of the citizenry. I think there are good lessons in here, although I don’t think Kristoff ever strays into PSA territory. It’s inherent and beautifully integral to this novel. Personally, I think this book is fine for readers 14 and older. However, I would recommend a parent reading it first.
This one is very close to a five star rating, but since some scenes lacked clarity, I ended up giving it 4.5/5.0 stars. Despite that, I highly recommend it to dystopian, fantasy, and Asian folklore fans.
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