Overall, an interesting and likable read. Interesting world-building; interesting Avatar-like connections via kenning between humans and beasts (both mythological and otherwise); interesting young woman protagonist; interesting and relevant take on terrorism/freedom fighting and imperialism. In the end, I really did like Stormdancer
, but fell short of loving the story.
My main issue with the story? The first 80+ pages took me a long time to read, and included constant flipping between story and glossary. The descriptions, though sometimes beautiful and always vivid, are simply overdone. I had the same problem with The Worm Ouroboros, where the world-building got so unnecessarily dense that I finally set the book aside after 150 pages and have yet to resume reading. Kristoff pushed me to the brink of making a stop-or-continue decision. I continued, and I'm glad I did. Otherwise, I would have missed the heartwarming and honoring relationship between Buruu and Yukiko. Their high regard and growing love for one another made me mist up on more than one occasion. The fight scenes with the two-as-one Griffin/human connection are excellent.
Kristoff does pick up the pace significantly with the hunt for the thunder tiger. The scenes where Buruu's wings are clipped were so painful for me to read! No majestic (or unmajestic, for that matter) creature deserves such disdainful treatment. I wouldn't stuff a sock in a canary's beak to keep it from singing, either. Such gross violations of dignity and beauty should be fought tooth and nail. Kristoff made me want to fight alongside these oppressed human and non-human beings.
For me, Buruu stole the show. Whether it was the aforementioned relationship with Yukiko or the gut-wrenching wing clippings, it was Buruu I found myself caring the most about. Check out his insurrectionary wisdom, including this barrage against imperial hubris: "AFTER THE LAST FISH IS CAUGHT. AFTER THE LAST RIVER POISONED. THEN YOU WILL KNOW WHAT YOU HAVE DONE. AND BY THEN IT WILL BE TOO LATE." The statement sounded familiar to me, so I Google searched and found out that a variation of this statement has been attributed to the Abenaki/Native American tradition, and was later used by Greenpeace in some marketing pieces. It's the wisdom's source that gives me pause. In a steampunk novel set seemingly in feudal Japan, why is Native American wisdom borrowed from so directly? Kristoff's Shima appears to be an amalgamation of multiple Asian and Native American cultures. The resulting imperial setting for Stormdancer
, though interesting, suffers a bit from the cultural confusion.
In the end, I liked Yukiko and Buruu enough to want to read the remainder of The Lotus War
trilogy. And I must admit to liking the heck out of Jay Kristoff. Really, what's not intriguing about a guy who looks like Dave Grohl (post-Nirvana), estimates in his bio that he has about "13,870 days to live", and includes the lyrics of Smashing Pumpkins, Nine Inch Nails, and Alice in Chains as poetic inspirations? This is a solid first effort, and I look forward to hearing more from Jay in this current trilogy and beyond.