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Yukiko is the daughter of Masaru, official Hunter of the Shōgun, the ruler of the eight isles of Shima. The life of the land and the people is more and more taken by the blood lotus, a plant on which all of Shima’s wealth and power is based on, but the Shōgun does not care about such matters. He orders Yukiko’s father to find him a griffin (or: arashitora) – even though those are long believed extinct and only alive in myths. It seems a hopeless undertaking as both defying as well as failing the Shōgun means certain death – he doesn’t accept it that not all of his wishes can be fulfilled. Yukiko does not know yet that this seemingly senseless journey will set things in motion that can change the whole country.
At first sight, “Stormdancer” seems to be plain awesome. It looks differently if you have a closer look. I have nothing against authors approaching a foreign culture in general. That can offer a new point of view, which is nothing bad in itself. Nonetheless, there are some rules you should stick to and I’m not sure Jay Kristoff did that.
I already had some problems with Leigh Bardugo’s “Shadow and Bone” because the author neglected very simple facts, for example female surnames ending with an A. I’m no expert in Japanese mythology and all I know about the country comes from mangas, animes and certain lifestyle magazines (though Wikipedia as the author’s source really isn’t much better). So I can’t tell whether he only mixed Japanese myths or other Asian ones as well – but I think we can trust other reviews on that matter, especially since even I stumbled upon some things that didn’t seem quite right to me.
It comes all back to the language in the end and the author’s dealing with it is … well, not exactly satisfying. Again, I’m no expert and I know nothing about Old Japanese, but some things simply attract attention. First and foremost, there’s the usage of “hai” as “yes” in any possible context; much like the German usage of this word, to be honest. Unfortunately, this little word cannot be used as varied as that, which is why I can’t understand why he uses it at the end of a sentence to mark it as a question – he might have added “ne” for that. (I think.) Of course, this is fantasy, but if you take that direction with your argumentation you might as well excuse any poor research with it.
What really irked me was the usage of “-chan”. Suffixes seem to be a problem in general, as he uses them as independent forms of address. Not so with “chan”, but it usually applies to people we hold dear and is often used for girls – sometimes even adult women, but then it is often degrading. If you add “chan” to someone’s name who is neither a child nor someone close to you, then you consider yourself above them – at least that is what I understood. I guess I don’t have to explain to you why I didn’t like women constantly being addressed like that (even if they were talking to each other), despite not knowing each other and neither of them being above the other. Women might not be acknowledged much in the world Kristoff created, so sometimes it makes sense. But characters of both sexes who obviously disagree with such a sexist notion still calling women “chan” – that doesn’t.
I’m not done with the language yet, as Kristoff’s style needs to be discussed as well. It’s sad if a book lacks any description, but describing everything too detailed is not good either. I don’t need to know where every speck of dust is placed; my imagination is fully working as well, dear author, and I like to make the presented world a little bit more like my world. The descriptions here seem wasted. While we get to know everything about the Shōgun’s clothing, Japanese terms are usually explained once if at all. Sometimes that’s enough; most people probably know about “obi”, “kimono” and “katana” and something like “arashitora” is catchy enough. But what about “wakizashi” or “ō-yoroi“? Words like these cause trouble and if you constantly have to look up words in the glossary, there isn’t much fun in reading left. By the way: the glossary is sorted after topics first, then alphabetically. Totally makes sense when dealing with completely unknown words.
Things get better as the story progresses, though only because I decided I wouldn’t be bothered any longer, meaning I did not look up any unknown word and tried to understand it within context instead. I can’t know whether I understood everything correctly, but the images in my head definitely weren’t less detailed.
Besides all of that, the author interprets his own text like an English one, so refers to “impure” as having two syllables. Seeing that the people actually speak Japanese, this is problematic – the English “impure” might have two syllables, but the Japanese word for it as well? And why do you need to explain Japanese terms to Japanese speaking people? It really doesn’t make much sense.
Otherwise, the book actually isn’t that bad and if you don’t care about those linguistic aspects, you might have a lot of fun. The main protagonist, Yukiko, is someone who knows how to get their will and that rather impressively. She and many of the other characters are good but flawed people whom I sometimes liked and sometimes didn’t. And there’s the arashitora, of course. I liked him from the very first moment on, despite or maybe because of his nearly cruel brutality, and I liked him even more as we got to know him, saw him change. The relationship between him and Yukiko develops nearly too easily, but it was fun to read about them getting to know each other and being together.
The fight scenes are something to look forward to as well; they aren’t unnecessarily long and Jay Kristoff isn’t squeamish when it comes to hurting characters. Well, if you include chainsawkatanas, this has to have some consequences – especially during conflicts and those simply had to arise. Most people might not want to see what has been done to the country, yet, but they can’t look away forever. Some aren’t any longer. “Stormdancer” has something to offer after all and still could have been a good book – could have.
There isn’t much tension to begin with. The first chapter (and the blurb) already tells you that Yukiko is going to meet the arashitora, so even though I was interested in her past and wanted to know why her relationships were the way they were, this didn’t make the first hundred pages thrilling. It gets better as the story is nearing its end, but that changes all too quickly again when Kristoff overdoes it with the drama. It’s partly the pointless love story’s fault and I’m still brooding over its right to exist – I can’t find it. Most of the time Yukiko thinks of his green eyes and the feelings that later supposedly develop (on his side) are far from believable. Some of the positive points vanish as quickly as they came – it really is a pity.
What looked like a thrilling adventure, turned out to be a story admittedly full of action, which is also overdramatized, though, ignores the simplest linguistic basics and only shines every now and then. For some this might be the right book to pick up, but this decision should be well considered.