Monday, July 29, 2013

REVIEW: Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff

Stormdancer (The Lotus War, #1) Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Pre-read Reaction

I ignore blurbs because
1) most of the times I don't know anything about the endorser,
2) it's always a couple of vague adjectives pieced together saying how great the book is,
3) sometime they're taken out of context and mean the opposite,
4) sometime they're by people back-scratching each other and may not have even read the book they're endorsing, and finally
5) they ruin the pretty cover-art...assuming the book has a pretty cover-art.
In short: book blurbs are unhelpful to me. Even the professionals and commenters at the New York Times on this opinion page agree blurbs don't do anything useful for readers.

And then I saw this cover. The UK cover looks nice but, as my friend Cas said, the USA cover looks badass.

I took closer look , and this what I saw:

Japanese steampunk? JAPANESE STEAMPUNK! Why yes please. I'm all in. Now that is a blurb I could get on board with.

Moreover, I actually know this Patrick dude because I read his Kingkiller Chronicle series (tangent: find it meh but fantasy fans seem to love it).

To view the badass cover in all its glory, click here for the image alone (courtesy of TheBookSmugglers's post). In an interview with the author, Kat from CuddleBuggery book-blog reveals self-made cover mockups — hilarity ensure.


I was uber excited for this book till negative reviews started coming in with horrifying criticisms of cultural appropriation. Uh oh. I stopped my happy dance of anticipation and I realized that my high expectations were too high. Red alert! Red alert! Disaster imminent. Expectations must be lowered. Expectations must be lowered.

I’m a nitpicky reader so high expectations spell certain doom for any book. Thus, I put off reading the book. Almost a year after its publication, in a fit of boredom, I finally read it.... And it wasn’t as bad as I thought, thankfully. It wasn’t good as I first hoped but it wasn’t as bad as I had come to think.

First off, the misuse of Japanese elements. It was bad alright. Honorifics, as the biggest example, weren’t used properly as suffixes and weren’t even used consistently as an established social practice. I could forgive the former and chalk them up as creative liberties, if somewhat gone wrong, but I struggled to forgive the latter because it’s such an amateur mistake. I was befuddled. Following one’s own world building should not be anything but a breeze.

+ the writing

That struggle was short-lived because the poor writing was the real problem for me. The misuse of Japanese elements, as bad as it was, was a mere symptom. The writing overdid the imagery. It was too much and too detailed that my eyeballs couldn’t help but glaze over, and when I tried to focus and read word for word I forgot immediately what was said. The sentence structure tried too hard to be flowery and thus was a mess of parallelism.

The writing crammed in everything Japanese-y it could cram for tawdry display. Japanese vocabulary was thrown without great care, translating into redundancy and pretentiousness. Heaven forbid that a reader should forget for more than a few seconds that this book is a JAPANESE-inspired fantasy. JAPANESE, I say!

Beyond the Japanese elements, some of the shifts in viewpoint were superfluous and bogged the pace, which was already bogged by the excessive exposition. I wished the narrative had kept closer to the heroine’s viewpoint. My patience was at its limit so I skimmed.

Thankfully, the writing in the second half was better. So much better that the book would have been better off doing away with the first few chapters. The Japanese elements were still misused, but less so. I wasn’t as annoyed as I was in the beginning. The writing no longer made it its number one priority to inundate the reader with all things Japanese.

Exposition was finally wrestled under control, allowing the plot to sustain action. In turn, the plot made distinctive steady progress and presented the goodies. Among the goodies was a strong heroine and political intrigue. The book began to entertain me.

+ the characters

I didn’t care for Yukiko in the beginning because of her flaw of sometimes letting her mouth run away in front of people who held the power to put her to death. Her flaw put her on the road of becoming labeled as TSTL. In addition, her father issues because of a tragic family past depressed me.

I finally started to like Yukiko when disaster struck and she faced it head on. I loved how she assertively she used Buruu, a thunder griffin who could have easily torn her apart, to save her ass. I loved how well practiced she was with her power to communicate with animals and how her power wasn’t an issue she had to deal with in the sense of survival and practical purposes. Fucking rare is a YA heroine who doesn’t have a complex about her power and knows how to properly use it. I liked how she never forgot her priorities, even when she was infatuated. For a while, I feared the romance would ruin the progress she made in character growth and to be a sensible person. I was glad it didn’t.

I did wish, however, that she showed more caution. For instance, she shouldn’t have let her guard down when she and her fellow survivors found refuge in a secret village. Just the pure fact that it was a secret village was suspicious enough. Fortunately, her efforts to face and resolve her father issues and her tragic past with all the earth-shattering revelations compensated for her deficiency in caution.

I loved how the bad guys’ enemies weren’t particularly good guys and had their own selfish agenda too. There was never any glossing over the fact that they were eco-terrorists and that their methods were violent. It made the political intrigue deliciously realistic.

I really liked how comparable the characters were to real life. You got your corrupted government, your evil corporation, your revolutionaries/terrorists (depending on which side you looked from). I did not miss how Lotus was symbolism for fossil fuels and that there were environmental themes at work. Oooh. Me likee. I don’t come across many books where environmental themes are in the front, especially with steampunk as the vehicle. I think this is my first.

In Conclusion

I rate Stormdancer 3-stars for I liked it. As a Japanese-inspired fantasy, it failed. Terribly. The book cried for competent editing; Twilight was less problematic. Hard to believe that this book had two professional editors from big publishing houses. However, as an entertaining story, albeit approached with low expectations, it passed. The second half of the book miraculously rescued the story.

Strong heroine. Political intrigue. Environmental themes. Meaningful steampunk. Symbolism with real life matters. Good balance between drama and action. No derailing romance. A satisfying ending in face of the fact that it is a series. I was so entertained that I forgave the book for all its transgressions.

If you enjoyed this book, check out the Year of the Dragon series, another Japanese-inspired YA fantasy with gorgeous cover arts.

Goodreads | Amazon

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