Top positive review
A Darker Nippon
Reviewed in the United States on April 6, 2019
“Stormdancer” feels like a hybrid of Philip Reeve, Cherie Priest, and James Clavell’s “Shogun”, and in many ways it outpaces all of them. It takes the breathless scale and darkly meticulous landscapes of Steampunk, and an encyclopediac knowledge of Japanese history, and mashes them together into something new.
Kristoff spends the first couple of chapters taking the readers on a tour of this bizarre alternative feudal era Japan, called Shima, beautifully realized so you can easily visualize this ruined parallel world, He paints a shocking picture of mythical beasts co-existing with humans in a slowly collapsing environment.
The central character, Yukiko, is out for revenge against Lord Yoritomo, the sadistic warlord who controls all of Shima, responsible for the death of her mother and the imprisonment of her father. She’s aided by the mysterious outcaste Kin, and Buroo the arashitora (storm-tiger) a wonderfully snarky creature from the mists of legend.
There is also Hiro, the guardsman who loves Yukiko but is fiercely loyal to the Shogunate, and the Iron Samurai - part-mechanical warriors who are pretty much what you would expect to find in a Steampunk novel.
Both main and secondary characters reveal new shades every time we meet them. Despite this, the real star of the book is the Lotus Smoke of the trilogy’s title, that looms over the book as a fuel source, a narcotic, the source of Yorimoto’s power, and the cause of Shima’s environmental degradation. The smoke is genuinely disturbing in its ubiquitous influence, and leads to some creepy imagery throughout the book.
Sometimes, there is a piece of writing in a genre book that makes me admire it because it stands out among the rest. It happened with Mark Hodder’s “The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack”, where we saw Jack’s descent into madness as he tried to set right what he thought had gone wrong. In this book, it happens in the climactic battle between Yukiko’s allies and Yoritomo’s forces in Chapter 34, which made me feel like I was watching a movie.
“Stormdancer” is written with passion and a huge amount of attention to detail. The writing is lean, doesn’t waste a sentence, and I’m looking forward to Book 2.