What a book! When you can instill it down to an equation Japanese Shogunate+ imaginative technology+beautiful yet deadly mythology+horrifying ecology+dreadful society ripe for revolution + inhumanity = one very amazing novel. Japanese Steampunk! Jay Kristoff has created a fully immersive, imaginative, mythological environment that should not me missed by anybody with a pulse. If I could give it six stars, I would! It is so very good, I would recommend it to all people who could read English as a first or second language and whatever language it will be translated into. The dramatic tension in this book is phenomenal! You read it at the edge of your seat - never missing a word of the writing, nor missing an image. OH! His powerful imagery, that is a hallmark of the book - from page one until the end of Stormdancer. It is one of the few masterpieces of fantasy to come out in the last decade! Kristoff is a jewel in the crown of the fantasy world in my humble opinion. What he has created will live on for years as one of those books that people revere like Neuromancer, or the the Song of Ice and Fire series. This book too, rates with them. Trust me. Just read it.
THE PLOT: The setting - a Japan of the mind. Seven islands named Shima with a Shogun and Samurai and the code of Bushido with the exception of intense technology that powers the weapons, the rickshaws, the skyships and just about everything. The technology comes from the Guild. The Artificers - who build and repair it and there are other brothers at the Guild who are not so benevolent. Our protagonist - Yokiko, is a girl who lives with her twin brother and her mother and father out in the country of Shima. Her Father is head huntsman to the Shogun. He hunts mythical beasts and brings them back alive to the Shogun, or sometimes dead, if the Shogun wishes it. Time goes by, and the brother dies and the Mother leaves, so it is just the Father and the Daughter living in Kigen City - the City of the Shogun. All the mythical beasts are dead, but he still has his job. The Shogun has a dream that he is a Stormdancer, which means that he flies through the air on the back of a Arishitora - a storm tiger. They have been extinct for a thousand years, yet he sends the Father and Yokiko and the hunt team on a skyship to go find one and bring it back to him, so he can fly it in his wars of dominion with the gaijin - the foreigners. The Shogun dreams of being the greatest Shogun whoever lived in history. So off they fly - and that is where the adventure begins. There are: Great thunder storms, lightning strikes, explosions, crashes, gliding to earth, mind melding, oni attacking ( demons from the underworld), people ground up for fertilizer (soylent green is people!), mythology turned real,beautiful and deadly, a plan to make evil pay, an artificer stripped, a daughter understands, a rebel group resists, a land that needs healing, a people that need freeing, the evilest man in the world gets want he wants and then some. There is so much more than that to the plot. It weaves in and out like a Japanese dragon weaves it coils in and out of a beautiful tapestry from some dynasty of long ago. You never know what will come next. For plot I give it a 9/10.
THE CHARACTERIZATION: The characters all seemed so real to me. I think that had to do with the amazing imagery that Kristoff uses throughout the novel. I could see the characters in my head as people with flaws, and motives, love and hatred, quirks and foibles, and yes they were fully three dimensional and human, except for the tiger, who grew throughout the story, to be more human as he bonded with our protagonist. He became more complex, as she became more feral. It was interesting, how they traded characteristics as the bond unfurled. The longer it lasted, the more characteristics they shared, until they were almost the same at the end.- both mythological creatures. Each character Kristoff put on the page was in some way developed, whether it was a maid or a peasant, a ship hand, an Artificer, they all were characterized with beautiful words and imagery that made them rounded out and human - this made the story so rich for the reader that I give characterization a 10/10.
THE IMAGERY: I have added this category because I think it's not only appropriate for this novel, but appropriate for all novels. For this one especially, the imagery was incredible. Each sentence - full of adjectives along with the sentence structures brought the story to life like a movie in my head. It was simply amazing. Most books can't do that. I think that I can count them on my fingers and my toes, after reading over 3000 books, that is saying a lot. The way Kristoff put the words together - let the words flow so that the images appeared in my brain. As an example, our protagonist and the tiger were fighting Oni (demons from the underworld) in a lightning storm at night, in a forest. The tiger and the girl were mind-melded - so acting as one, the Oni were five in number. One was huge, standing ten feet tall, with a war club wrapped in metal that would crush the skull of anything that it hit. So now the scene is set. As it unfolds, what you see in the novel is the battle as the lightning strikes, the faces of the Oni as hideous, and their limbs fly along with the blood as the rain pours down, the tiger roars. The Oni are everywhere - with glowing red eyes, and ten pound swords, trying to kill our heroes. Flash! An Oni is trying to swing at the tiger's head at the rear - the girl warns the tiger through the bond. The tiger whirls and kills the Oni instead in some gruesome way. Soon the battle is over, but the imagery of the flashes of lightning in the dark, and the dark Oni with the red glowing eyes, and the black and white tiger, along with the girl - limbs flying, blood flowing, bestial faces leering. It all seems to have made itself into a movie that unreeled into a scene that I won't be able to forget. There are so many more examples from this book that I would give it all away if I gave them. My rendition of Kristoff's work is so feeble, that I would not do justice to his superior work. Let's just say for imagery - 10/10.
GORE SCORE: This too is new, It does not, in any way, effect the overall score of the review, it is just for people to know, what they are getting into when they are reading a book. Some books are so gory as to be overly gruesome. Some are not gory at all, even though they have a reputation for it. So I decided to give out a gore score, so that people who like gore, could get a read on what those books they might like and others who hate gore, could steer clear of the bloody, limbs flying, guts spilling types of books that some of us like. As for Stormdancer, even though there was violence, and limbs were flying, and there was bloodletting, and one guy got something like a powered harpoon to the head at close range - none of it was gratuitous. There was no overt description of the results of the bloodletting - it was just a fact of life at the Shogunate. It just happened. With chainkatanas ( I do think they mean chainsaw katanas, swords and knives of every shape and kind, not to mention that powered harpoon. Violence was a fact of life, as it is in the Japan of the mind, so I give this a Gore Score of 5/10. It has gore, but it happens quickly and is over quickly. No wallowing in the results, or describing the remains. There is no celebration of violence for the sake of violence. Which is why I stick to my score of 5/10.
THE DIALOGUE: The dialogue at times was quite formal, as this was Japan of the mind, it had to be. In the court, everyone kowtowed to the Shogun. Head in the dust, kneeling, you spoke when you were recognized and asked a question. These questions usually required a yes or no answer. The answer no was typically a death sentence. The Shogun always got what the Shogun wanted. At other times, when they were on the skyship, the dialogue was less formal. They spoke like you or I would. Kristoff's dialogue was completely credible. The most interesting dialogue was between the girl and the tiger. The beginning was mostly short words and feelings. This developed over time to include sentences and concepts. Then it included, full comprehension and communication. She gained as well. He was the son of the God of Thunder, so she took on his confidence, his courage, his ideals, his unwavering beliefs. They become one. For Dialogue, I give Kristoff a 10/10.
THE PACING: The pacing to the story was like rushing headlong down a river with rapids at class IV, without a break. You couldn't stop - you didn't want to. You we're spellbound by Yokkiko and the tiger as well as everyone else in the book. The book was fully immersive - you were completely encompassed within it. Leaving the world as we know it for the world of Japan of the mind. Through the imagery, you watched the movie unreel at high speed, never looking away, because you didn't want to lose a minute of this great cinematic adventure. So, off I went, completely unprepared to spend hours as a captive to a novel, or is that a movie in my head, well it really doesn't matter, because I was only let loose when it was over. Wheew! That was thrilling. I can't remember the last time that I had quite a ride like that. I was completely wrung out, yet completely satisfied. Which brings us to our next category, the ending, but for pacing, I give it a 10/10.
THE ENDING: The ending of the book was tragic and satisfying at the same time. I didn't see it coming, well I didn't see part of it coming, part of it was planned, but I didn't know if it would work. After all the hard work and planning that others had put in, our hero played her part and went away, then she came back and spoke to the people one last time, inspiring them. The ending closed out all the questions that the first book proposed quite nicely - tied them in a knot and then tied a pretty bow so that everyone would know that it was over in a nicely wrapped package. Except - he left open vistas that could be easily worked into a second book if he so chose. Please Mr. Kristoff do a second book. I can't think of anything that I'd like better than a second book with Yokkiko and the tiger. I swear now in public that I would even edit it if you wish - I have the skills. I promise. Just write one more book so that I can experience that sheer pleasure of being captive to the unreeling movie of your imagery of the girl and the tiger. Anything I can do, I will do. Just name it. The ending as I said was satisfying and tragic, yet perfect in a lot of ways. It made the book whole, which many authors don't do these days. I feel that that should be a goal - A whole book, not a teaser, not a half-book, not a cliffhanger, but a whole book is so satisfying that I give the ending a 10/10.
THE UPSHOT: If I add up the score - well actually I won't do that right now, because I want to recommend this book to everyone who speaks English as a first or second language and any other language that the book is translated into. This book is so dynamic, fully immersive, imaginative, full of imagery that takes you away to the Japan of the mind back in a day when a Shogun had technology that blew away anything that we have today, along with amazing mythological characters that are real and beautiful and deadly. Japanese Steampunk! This is more than a novel - it's a movie of the mind as well - through Kristoff's genius, he's made it into multimedia without intention, by writing so beautifully with sentence structure set it up so that you see, feel, hear, touch and taste, everything that happens in the novel. Which is why I say it is fully immersive. If someone can write like that, they should write more. I have no worries about a sophomore slump for Mr. Kristoff. He is too good. No Way, No How! If you have not read Stormdancer - Go out and buy it RIGHT NOW! BTW, the score for this review is 59/60 - almost perfect. One point away from perfect. I would plan to block out a few hours to be swept away by the fully immersive effects of Mr. Kristoff's book - Stormdancer is a winner in every way, shape and form.