I'm a fierce book lover, mainly of YA, and here's where I'll share my thoughts and impressions on whatever I pick up next.
I've been following this book since it was announced. Stalking, drooling over it, openly proclaiming my eternal loyalty to it, I'm sure I even promised a first-born in exchange for a copy of this book. So when the publisher offered an ARC, I danced and screamed and sang and, well, let's just say I made a spectacle of myself and gave my family another good reason to think I finally lost it (read: it was right in the middle of a department store). The thing is, this is one of those books that burst into the scene in the middle of a hype storm. Just read the premise. Look at that cover. So far, everything had been done right and it deserves the excitement and anticipation of the crowds. The problem with books that have that type of effect on the crowds way before it is released is that we set our expectations high and then, sadly, many books fail to deliver and we are left feeling sad and disappointment and swearing off ever feeling so excited about a book. Having gone through that situation several times, I tried to contain myself when I first received the book. I failed, but, as it turns out, I didn't need to anyway. This book not only lives up to the hype and reached the high expectations I set out for it, it completely obliterated them. I would even dare to say that this book has everything done right. Yup, I could find no faults in it. Of course, I might be a bit biased since I am a fantasy and Japanese culture nerd, but I have no doubts all kind of audiences will absolutely love this book, which might just be the best debut novel I've ever read.
The first thing you'll probably notice when jumping into this title is that Mr. Kristoff had no problem offering the readers a gorgeous background on Japanese history, culture and mythology. I am awed at the amount of care and consideration and dedication that went into making this book, not a Japanese-inspired fantasy, but an homage to what makes Japanese culture so beautiful and mystifying. Mr. Kristoff built upon a solid foundation of reality, a gorgeous and ingenious fantasy that honors everything that is Japanese culture. Seriously Mr. Kristoff, how did you even come up with this story? It is so brilliant, so engaging and impressive and complicated, I can't help feeling overwhelmed with the richness and intricate complexity of it. The stempunk element was executed marvelously.
The problem with many stempunk novels is that they want to play that angle so much, the story either becomes lost in all the technology and terms, or the whole stempunk aspect losses its impact or meaning because it ends up not really being that much of an important part of the story. But here, it works just right. There is an abundance of technology, but it blends with the setting and the story and the characters to the point that it feels realistic, not to mention that it is essential for the fantastic world-building of the novel. The author made a multidimensional world with his novels, with conflict that go far beyond a simple dystopia with an unjust leader, which, as a matter of fact, is a situation perilous enough to deserve the title of dystopia. Politics, religion and even environmental problems arise throughout the narrative. There's not a part of this world that was left to the imagination or that the author didn't deem unimportant and undeserving of development. The world of Stormdancer is rich and complicated and breathtakingly beautiful.
Stormdancer kicks off strongly, action right from the start, and moves on just as smoothly and thrilling all the way throughout the end with fantastic, sophisticated, elegant and almost lyrical writing. I did find some minor errors in the use of Japanese, but they did in no way take away from the novel or the quality of the story. The story is brilliantly plotted and allows for massive character development, which is always a weak point in YA books. Yukiko is one of the best heroines I've had the pleasure of reading about. She is strong and independent, but real enough to bleed and feel and learn from her mistakes. She is flawless in her imperfection and her unwavering sense of duty, to herself and her beliefs is nothing short of inspiring. The worth of Yukiko as a character goes far beyong the worth of her abilities and their application to the story. All YA heroines should be modeled after her. In fact, every single female character in this novel was strong and admirable, never weak or allowing anything to cloud their judgement or take away from them their dignity or self-respect, especially not a man. Yukiko's relationships with almost every single character in the book is complex and fantastically executed, especially the ones with her father and Buruu.
I freaking loved Buruu. I need a pet griffin now. I'm afraid my cat just won't cut it anymore. (Don't tell him that or he'll kick me out of the bed.) But going back to Buruu, he was amusing and entertaining and adorable in his pride and complicated development into human feelings. There's this particular scene when Yukiko is talking to another person and he, jealous in that haughty, animalistic way of his, tells her to stop talking to the other person and talk to him. They way it happens is so endearing, I went all "Awwwww" and, from then on, he became my favorite character, well, alongside Yukiko.
There is romance in this story, but not like you are perhaps used to when it comes to YA novels. First and foremost, it is not the central focus of the novel, for which I am eternally grateful. Most importantly, perhaps, is the fact that it actually adds to the story and is a significant point of character development for Yukiko that left me breathless.
I could go on and on talking about how wonderful this novel is, and trust me, I want to, but what you need to take from this review is that this book is a definite must-have for fantasy fans, for Japanese culture enthusiasts and for, well, any reader actually. This book revived my faith in the YA genre and, hopefully, it will show the world that this genre does have something to offer to literature. Stormdancer is a gorgeous, imaginative and inspiring fantasy that is breathtaking in its execution and that will leave you desperate for a sequel.