Review: Stormdancer

13538816Title: Stormdancer
Author: Jay Kristoff
Genre: Fantasy, steampunk, YA

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Goodreads Summary:(read at your own peril, I recommend picking this book up blind!)A DYING LAND
The 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.
The 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.
Yukiko 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.

I haven't gotten this emotionally wrecked by a book since The Raven King, and that's a high standard to meet! I don't know how to accurately describe this book, but the closest thing I've got is "exquisitely painful." The characters endure so much physical and emotional pain, and some of the passages were heartbreaking (I cried, there was a particular scene where I literally had to put the book down and make myself some tea because I was so overwhelmed about the possibility of a certain thing occurring). Yet despite all the blood and fear and betrayal, you keep reading because the writing style is so absolutely lush, rich, and captivating that you can't look away.

That's quite a lethal combo.

I am always excited about sci-fi and fantasy set in Asia, because there are so many rich cultures and mythologies from the East that would lend themselves to those genres. So when I saw "Samurai Japan" and "steampunk" used to describe this book, I was completely sold! I had absolutely no idea what the book was about besides those two phrases, and I think that was a big part of why I enjoyed the book so much. I was as confused as Yukiko and had no idea what was coming next, and I loved gleaning more facts about the steampunk world with every chapter. Looking back at the blurb, I think it ruins far too much about the book. Do yourself a favor and go into this book blind.

For that reason, I'm going to be very vague about what I loved about this book. Other than the fact that I was incredibly emotionally invested and entranced by the writing style, I also really loved the political intrigue. There are a lot of fierce and smart women in this book, showing strength and power in their own ways. I love that about all of Jay Kristoff's books; he doesn't resort to stereotypes about "strong female characters", he sketches real people with his words and incidentally a large portion of them happen to be awesome women. In a genre so rife with objectification and stereotypes, I am immensely thankful for this book.

My favorite thing about this book is the incredible friendship at the heart of it. I am always a sucker for stories about the platonic equivalent of soul-mates - friends that truly belong together and would move worlds to protect and help one another. This friendship brought tears to my eyes :)

The one thing I didn't like about this book was the romance. Yes, it was great to see a young woman who had agency and wasn't waiting for the guy to make the first move, and yes it was great to see a woman who was unashamed about her desires. At the same time, I felt like the preoccupation with the "green-eyed samurai" weakened an otherwise incredible character. When she is dealing with actions and consequences that are literally world-shattering, it seems silly that she thinks of green eyes, even if she instantly chastises herself for it. The whole messy romantic situation did actually further the plot though, so I guess it wasn't completely irrelevant the way most YA romance subplots are?

I guess that's another thing, I wouldn't necessarily categorize this is YA even though it's marketed that way, because to me it read like adult fantasy/science-fiction. Sure, the protagonist is a teenager, but the way I draw the line in my head between YA and adult fantasy/science-fiction is the level of subtlety and complexity in the plot/characters/writing style. It's a perfect cross-over title, I think people who usually read YA and people who usually don't would all find things to love about this book.
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