Fiction Reviews


(2012) Jay Kristoff, Tor, hrdbk, £17.99, 452pp, ISBN 978-0-230-75901-5


In world that is a combination of feudal Japan and steampunk technology , the power is held by the ruling Shogun and the Loutus Guild. The latter supplies the technology and fuel from the Blood Lotus plant. The cruel Shogun depends that Masaru, the court hunter must journey to find a Griffin (or thunder tiger in the book) so that he may become a Stormdancer, the name given the riders of such creatures. Then he might be able to end the war against Europeans, which has been going on for twenty years. If Masaru does not find one, he will be put to death. He takes along his sixteen year-old daughter Yukiko. Masaru has also been hiding the fact that Yukiko is yokai-kin, which means that she can telepathically communicate with animals.

Travelling on this worlds version of an airship, they are able to capture one, and clip its wings to weaken its powers of flight. But the ship is damaged in a storm, forcing the crew to leave. Except for Yukiko, who goes to free the griffin from its cage and together they survive the crash. Now in the mountains, they bound together to survive from attacks from demons called oni. Journeying on, they meet the resistance to the regime and start to plan their revenge on the Shogun.

There has some discussion online about the accuracy of the cultural references within the novel. I admit to lacking in knowledge of historical Japan, but I get the feeling that they probably would not have used Anglo Saxon swear words.

The reason that the swearing is so jarring is because you feel that this originally was a young adult novel, which is why it tries to have a love triangle in it and establishes that pollution is a BAD THING. At length. Then it got expanded or reworked, resulting in plots that appear to be dropped at the end such as the oni or the Shogun’s sister or the possibility of civil war. As this is described on the front page as the 'Lotus War Book 1', this may just be being held back for the sequel.

While the book does have some interesting ideas and descriptive passages, it feels as if it cannot decide what it wants to be. A lot of the steampunk elements begin to clash with the idea of a feudal Japanese society. If you have forms of radio and air travel, why is there still what is effectively witch-burning going on? This novel reads as if it had a successful pitch then ran into difficulties with making it actually work as a novel. The result is something that pushes itself out of the range of a young audience while lacking the maturity for adults.

David Allkins

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