by Jay Kristoff
Plot Summary:A DYING LAND
The Shima Imperium verges on the brink of environmental collapse; an island nation once rich in tradition and myth, now decimated by clockwork industrialization and the machine-worshipers of the Lotus Guild. The skies are red as blood, the land is choked with toxic pollution, and the great spirit animals that once roamed its wilds have departed forever.
AN IMPOSSIBLE QUEST
The hunters of Shima’s imperial court are charged by their Shōgun to capture a thunder tiger – a legendary creature, half-eagle, half-tiger. But any fool knows the beasts have been extinct for more than a century, and the price of failing the Shōgun is death.
A HIDDEN GIFT
Yukiko is a child of the Fox clan, possessed of a talent that if discovered, would see her executed by the Lotus Guild. Accompanying her father on the Shōgun’s hunt, she finds herself stranded: a young woman alone in Shima’s last wilderness, with only a furious, crippled thunder tiger for company. Even though she can hear his thoughts, even though she saved his life, all she knows for certain is he’d rather see her dead than help her.
But together, the pair will form an indomitable friendship, and rise to challenge the might of an empire.
Review:My first thought when starting this book was how completely depressing the bleakness of Shima was - so polluted and overrun by industrialization - that I found it difficult to get into such a dreary, filthy setting. I am personally put off by books that indulge too much in descriptions of certain bodily functions - and I could have done with less phlegmy coughs, rising bile, and slick black blood. But this is so not a cheery book and the picture the story paints of a world in need of change before it destroys itself is perfectly fitting for this vivid tale of greed, vengeance and survival. But there is a bright point in the story - the friendship between Yukiko and the thunder tiger or arashitora.
Yukiko is an embittered and angry character, because of the choices her father has made, and her grief at things that happened in the past, and yet she has the moral strength to do what's right which makes her such an admirable character. It also helps that she's a formidable fighter - and the many things that happen in this book that forces her to stand up and fight makes her very inspiring as well. Yukiko's bond with the thunder tiger is just another facet of that because when they work together they are so much stronger. The idea of a stormdancer is fantastic and I loved the fight scenes with Yukikko and the arashitora because there was so much power in them when they fought together. The fight scenes in general though were outstanding. Very gory of course, but that's in keeping with the style of this book. The arashitora develops in personality as well - until I was always glad when he made an appearance in the story - from his deadpan sarcasm to his earnest and protective love of Yukikko, I thought he was a great balance to the darkness of some of the characters in the story.
The world building is incredibly detailed - there's fantasy, steampunk, and dystopian elements, as well as Japanese mythology and folklore. The world of Shima is rich with history and I felt it was easy to fall into this world once I got used to the squalidness of it. And more than halfway through the book I realized how much this story hurts. The condition of the world, the tragedies, the strength and bravery of the characters and the sacrifices made, created a lot of heart hurting for me! By the last few chapters I was completely gripped by the action and doing that thing where I try to take everything in too fast and had to back up to get the complete picture. So frustrating when you can't absorb words directly and en masse!
This is a dark story, and while emotionally satisfying in some respects, it is overrun with moments when you want to ask the author what happened to him that he likes to hurt people. I can't wait to find out what happens next though in this fantastically engaging story!