In reviewing this book I was faced with several questions: Who is responsible for this story? How much did I enjoy it, and why? What was my most lasting impression? Finally, and most importantly, where do I start to describe my answers to the above and more?
'Stormdancer' is the debut novel by Jay Kristoff, a Perth-born author now residing in Melbourne, and it is obvious from the beginning that not only he has thoroughly researched the ideals of both the steampunk genre and Japanese history and culture, but that he has a clear image and plan for where this book (and the resultant series that is planned to grow from it) is heading.
This book had me running through the full range of emotion from outright almost-wet-my-pants laughter, to "Damn-you-Mr-Kristoff-you-brought-me-to-tears" sadness. There are multiple pop-culture references sprinkled throughout the story, however they are so carefully and cleverly disguised that it is very easy to miss a lot of them if you are not paying attention, and at the same time there are many points in the novel where the writing is almost heart-breskingly poignant that it could (and did in my case) bring the reader to tears over what is (or has) happened to the various characters.
The vivid and detailed descriptions, whilst perhaps off-putting or overwhelming to some, helped to paint in my mind the background picture of an exotic land that is slowly choking itself to death through its reliance on the toxic by-products of the Blood Lotus, a fictious plant. The descriptions of a fuedal-era Japanese land, its customs, class restrictions, even the clothing and food descriptions: Magnificanet! Stupendous! Wonderous! And a whole encyclopedia-full of additional adjectives!
Characters. Dear God, how do I describe the characters that doesn't end up making me sound like a gushing fanboi? The word 'realistic' springs immediately to mind. Is it overused as a descriptor? perhaps in many books, yes. In this case? Dear God, no. I, almost literally, felt that these were real people who had lived (and died) in fuedal-era Japan, let alone the deeply complex quasi-modern/fantasy mix land of Shima of the story. The characters continue to develop throughout the book, blossoming into people you really do cheer for (or boo, depending on who and what circumstances). I am struggling, as I write this, to think of any other series or single book with such detailed characters as those found in 'Stormdancer'. Again, there are not enough adjectives in the English language to fully describe hot and what I felt about the characters.
I loved this book, truly LOVED it. When I first heard of this book I created a shelf called "Book Boner" because the idea just gave me such an intense feeling of desire.. and not only did this bopok deliver, it did so IN SPADES!
Of course, as with all things, there will be those who will dislike this book. To them I can only say the following:
My hat is off to you, Mr Kristoff. I look forward with anticipation to the rest of the books in this series.