My Review: I was lucky enough to snag an ARC of this book back in August, but because of an unexpected illness, I am just now getting around to reviewing it. And I'm not going to lie, I have never been so conflicted over how to rate a book. I originally gave Stormdancer a 3 star rating, but after really thinking about it and hoping the sequel will help smooth out the kinks, I'm going out on a limb and giving it 4 stars.
First and foremost, I gotta give Jay Kristoff credit for writing such an original story. Set in a feudalesque Japan, this book really is a Japanese dystopian steampunk fantasy. And isn't the cover art absolutely gorgeous???
The story follows Yukiko, a member of the fox clan and daughter of Masaru, who just so happens to be Master Hunter for the Shogun Yoritomo. Although griffins are believed to be extinct, the Shogun sends out his Master Hunter to find one of these mystical beasts. Believing the mission hopeless but unable to say no to the insane Shogun, they are shocked to come face to face with a griffin. They are able to capture the poor beast, but find themselves in trouble when a storm hits. Yukiko finds herself separated from her father and his crew...with only an injured, very pissed off griffin to keep her company. But soon these two wary enemies cannot deny a connection between them and must learn to trust each other in order to survive.
There are so many different elements that have to come together in order to make this story work, and for the most part, Kristoff does a pretty good job making this happen. Since the story takes place in feudal Japan, there has to be some basis for historical and cultural accuracy. Using Japanese names and including a Shogun that rules with an iron fist is one way of accomplishing this. I really liked how the different animal clans were included and described (fox, dragon, etc.). Another way Kristoff helps the reader along is by including a glossary of terms. And trust me, it really does come in handy.
The author uses flashbacks throughout the novel to help the reader better understand Yukiko and her strained relationship with her father. This is also how we learn the significance of the name Buruu and why Yukiko gives the griffin this name. And let me tell you, some of those flashback scenes brought tears to my eyes. Kristoff did a great job with not going overboard with pages and pages of flashback, but at the same time the ones he included were well written and benefited the story and character development.
Here is what I had some trouble with. Kristoff is a truly gifted writer, especially when it comes to description. The way he described the gold masks/apparatuses that the Shogun and the Kazumitsu Elite wear to protect them from the burning glare of the sun and the exhaust fumes polluting the air truly paints a picture in my mind. However, one thing I noticed some other readers/reviewers complaining about is the fact that there is a lot of repetitive description used. And when that happens, readers either want to start skipping parts or find it hard to get into the story. I found myself struggling through the first 60-100 pages. It definitely was not the kind of beginning that grabs you and makes you want to stay up all night reading. However, things do smooth out and come together by the middle to the end of the story and well worth your patience.
I also had issues with abrupt character point-of-view changes. It was more prevalent in the beginning of the book, but there definitely were a few times when I would be in one character's head and then suddenly in someone else's without any warning. I also felt that many of the characters were 1 dimensional despite Yukiko being well rounded. I had trouble with the romance between Yukiko and Yamagata, the personal Samurai guard of the Shogun. Or maybe I should say, lack there of. She meets Yamagata, the boy with green eyes in the beginning of the story for a minute, thinks about him occasionally throughout the story, then in the end....well, I don't want to spoil anything.
Stormdancer really is a unique, original story with a lot of potential. Kristoff had a lot of elements to work with in order to make the story come together and I think somewhere along the way things got a little out of control. But that sometimes happens with the first book to a new series. It's hard to find just the right formula when you are trying to introduce your readers to new mythology, world building, and characters. That's why I give Stormdancer 4 stars, because I have high hopes that book 2 in the Lotus War series will smooth out the issues. Afterall, one thing that Kristoff did do well is give us characters that we care about and I absolutely can't wait to see what happens to Yokiko and Buruu in the next installment.