So there's this shogun brat who dreams about riding a griffin into battle and decides he wants one for himself. Unfortunately, there hasn't been a griffin sighting for at least a generation as humans have polluted the island beyond habitation. In fact, we're the only creatures stupid enough to stick around.
But who cares, right? If the shogun wants something, he's going to get it. (Why he couldn't have settled for a fluffy white bunny instead is beyond me.)
Well this is where our young protagonist comes in. Yukiko and her father are the shogun's official griffin-nappers, so naturally they draw the short end of the stick and are sent off on a wild griffin-chase. (Tired of the griffin puns yet?) A gang of fellow hunters joins up with them, and soon they're off stomping about the countryside busting up airships and playing tag with demons.
And guess who makes friends with a griffin? That's right, our lovely Yukiko.
Thematically speaking, Stormdancer isn't your best bet if you're studying Jung's shadow or Nietzsche's metamorphoses. (Well okay, there is a bit of that.) But it does touch on the Man vs. Machine issue that was so popular in the original Star Wars trilogy: black skies hailing down acid rain due to overzealous industrialization; a loss of forests due to expanded farming of toxic plants; people who encase themselves in machines to move about, and much much more.
These elements fit well with the characters Jay invented; their attitudes reflect the world rather than ignore it. Many authors decide to skimp on this deep, psychological level of character-building, and it's nice to see that level of care go into something so wonderful. I had no issues believing the characters' actions, thoughts, and feelings were real even when the dramatic irony frustrated me.
Some reviewers complained that the culture was "cherry-picked." That is, rather than encompassing all the cultural norms of Japan, Jay grabbed a few handfuls and stuck them together.
I'm sorry, but this is Japanese-inspired steampunk fantasy, which means Stormdancer is not a tourist manual. It's like getting upset because Brandon Sanderson didn't put dragons in The Way of Kings. "Oh God! No dragons? Guess it isn't very good fantasy."
In fantasy there's a huge temptation to show off the world you've created, and some readers, like fans of Steven Erikson, might be drawn to that. But I am not. The only issue with Stormdancer was the initial pacing, which divulged a little too much detail about the world these characters grew up in. Sure, Japanese-inspired culture might be alien to a lot of people, and I can understand the difficulties of explaining steampunk, but it still could have done with a bit of trimming.
Regardless, Stormdancer was one of the more enjoyable stories I've experienced. The book had a great balance between character and plot, and despite an overly descriptive beginning, I would definitely read it again.
If you'd like to read an original fantasy novel with well-written characters, a strong plot, and a harmonious magic system, I encourage you to pick up a copy with your favorite book dealer.
Also, be sure to check back later this weekend as I will be interviewing Jay Kristoff Sunday Morning. He has recently been shortlisted for three categories of the David Gemmel Legend award, which you can check out at the link provided below:
Update! The Interview: