Book One of the Lotus War
By Jay Kristoff
Available now from Thomas Dunne Books (St. Martin's Press)
I couldn't wait to start reading this book. Fantasy influenced by Japanese mythology? Civil unrest? Strong female protagonist? Bonding with magical animals? It's taken me a week to finish reading STORMDANCER and I read six other books between chapters.
The first chapter is brilliant. Kitsune Yukiko is fighting for her life, about to be killed by an oni. Then the second chapter kicks in, going back in time without any warning. Learning how Yukiko reached that point is a total slog. The narrative jumps between point-of-view without warning. One second you're following along with Yukiko, the next you're in the head of a character who has yet to be introduced. One of the first scenes has her wondering about a boy with green eyes, despite the fact she's in grave danger. You'd better keep those green eyes in mind because he doesn't show up for a couple hundred pages. I remembered them because that was a major "What the hell?" moment for me. You wonder what in the world happened to opium and why lotus is the drug of choice. I mean, Japan is at war with the gaijin. Is China sitting on its thumbs or something?
But, like so many things in life, it gets better.
The mythology is a strong point throughout the novel. Jay Kristoff throws the reader into the deep end, but I liked it. It make Yukiko's world feel more immersive. People without a grounding in Japanese mythology might find it more confusing, but there is an extensive glossary in the back. And once Buruu, the arashitora (griffin), comes into play the plot kicks into gear. I was a little disappointed by the bonding aspect of the story, since Yukiko and Buruu become the bestest of pals almost instantly. But Buruu, and his snarky commentary, is the best thing about STORMDANCER.
Part of my problem with STORMDANCER's beginning is all the bad guys are boring. The shogun Tora Yoritomo is crazy and violent. The Guildsmen, who grow the lotus polluting the world, go about in big metal suits burning children for being impure (ie, having supernatural abilities). Now, I wanted to see Yoritomo die an awful, bloody death. But until Yukiko meets with the Resistance, the story lacks nuance. (And believe me, the environmentalism in STORMDANCER makes Miyazaki's use of the theme look subtle.)
And yes, I did promise to move onto how the book gets better. I love Aisha, the shogun's sister. Now there's a character who understands shades of grey. I would've gladly read an entire book about Aisha. (Yukiko felt bland, like a standard spunky girl.) I liked that the Guildsmen are obsessed with purity, since the lotus has long been a symbol of purity. I liked the race to the finish and knowing the perfectly laid plans would somehow go asunder, because plans never work out in life or in fiction.
I intend to read the next book in the Lotus War series. STORMDANCER picked up enough steam by the end that I want to know what happens next. Honestly, I think STORMDANCER was a victim of its hype. If I hadn't so many excited posts before I read the novel I might've been less disappointed.
(No place for this in the review, but some may appreciate the warning that there is extremely icky implied sexual violence.)