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A Reader of Fictions: Out from Under - Incubus

A Reader of Fictions

Book Reviews for Just About Every Kind of Book

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Out from Under - Incubus

The Lotus War, Book 1

Author: Jay Kristoff
Pages: 313
Publisher:Thomas Dunne Books
Publication Date: September 18, 2012
Source: ARC from St. Martin's Press

Description from Goodreads:
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.

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.

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.

First Sentence: "As the iron war club scythed toward her head, Yukiko couldn't help wishing she'd listened to her father."

Holy epicness Batman. Stormdancer is, perhaps, the most talked about book of this summer, and, having now finished, I can tell you that all of that anticipation and expectation is well-deserved. However, Stormdancer is also not what I was expecting. Not at ALL. Partly, this was my fault, but partly this was because of the way books are marketed.

What I didn't find in Stormdancer was the sort of Joss Whedon-esque humor that I was anticipating from communicating with Jay on Twitter and Goodreads. There is humor of a sort, but that's not a driving force by any means. That was my incorrect expectation. I was also expecting, from the way this book was marketed, a young adult dystopia about Yukiko. Well, sorry, guys, but that's not what this book is.

Jay Kristoff actually wrote an incredibly insightful post that got me thinking about the distinctions between young adult fiction and adult fiction, and how, much of the time, the lines are entirely arbitrary. In fact, there have been several books recently that I never would have guessed were 'young adult, and this most definitely falls into that category. I wonder whether some readers will be disappointed and dislike this book because it's so unlike most of the other novels published under that unclear heading.

Although Yukiko is undoubtedly the heroine of our piece, Stormdancer is definitively not just about her. Told in third person, the narrative does not even follow her alone. Many important characters left their teens behind years before. This book does not tackle issues that face a teenage girl. The scope of Stormdancer is broad, and I think that, were this not a dystopia and were YA not so popular, this book would be marketed as epic fantasy, where I personally feel it belongs (if we feel the need to push labels onto our books).

Moving on from that rant, let's actually talk about Stormdancer. You may have noticed that this book (or at least the ARC version) is but 313 pages. Don't let this fool you. Stormdancer is not a short book. The ARC is larger than a traditional trade paperback, the font is not large, and the margins are small. Published in an ordinary fashion, Stormdancer would probably be somewhere from 500-700 pages. If published the same way Divergent was, it would be IMMENSE.

All of those words to read are not a struggle, though, or were not for me. Jay Kristoff can write. His language is ornate and complex, with some of the best diction I've seen from a modern writer, yet all quite natural. Seriously, this man is a genius.

The best part of the book, most definitely, is the world building. Jay Kristoff has built a truly epic world, a steampunk Japan full of demons and fantastic creatures. A young, merciless shogun, Yoritomo, rules as tyrant over Shima, allowing the country to fall to ruin. In this steampunk world, machines run on lotus (think opium...only with the ability to power machinery and to pollute the environment). The mass of the populace is dying from the lotus, breathing the smoke of the polluted air into their lungs. Shima's soldiers (Iron Samurai) and priests (The Guild) are encased in metalwork, safe from the environment.

Set within this dying world, addicted, one way or another, to lotus, Masaru, Yoritomo's master hunter, receives orders to capture and deliver to the shogun an arashitora, a thunder tiger (half eagle, half tiger, as seen on the cover). Though they are believed to be extinct, Masaru and his crew, including Yukiko, set out on the fruitless search. What could, in a lesser book, be the whole of the first volume, this quest takes only the first third or so of the novel. Once they find the arashitora, Buruu, that is when the book really (pardon the pun...or, actually, don't) took off.

At first, I was appreciating the language and the mastery of the world building, but I wasn't particularly involved yet. This is a big part of why I would call this epic fantasy: good epic fantasy takes some time, because there's so much that has to be set up since the world is so different. Once Yukiko and Buruu began to bond, I really became attached to their characters and caught up in their fates. Yukiko is, as the cover promises, a BADASS, with the all-caps completely necessary to convey the degree of her ability to be awesome. However, Buruu totally stole the show from her, I thought. He is definitely my favorite character, because he's funny and loyal and A FRACKING THUNDER TIGER! It does not get more hardcore than that.

The other characters are also fascinating, interesting in how unclear they are. I really don't know how to feel about most of them, unable to figure out whether they're trustworthy or not. Pretty much by the time you figure that out, it's too late. This is not a world where good and evil are always bathed in black and white, and both are generally bathed in red, either from blood or from lotus.

So yeah, Stormdancer is just as crazy cool and full of action and steampunkery (like chainkatanas...think chainsaw + katana and accept the fact that Kay Kristoff is better than you) as you could possibly want. I advise you not to get to hung up on what Stormdancer is, and just to sit back and enjoy the ride through the storms.

Favorite Quote...er, Scene: 
"'You forget where you are, Yukiko-chan,' Daichi waved his hand across the vista. 'The haunted valleys of the Iishi Mountains. Demons are as real as the trees or the sky to the children who grow up here.'
   'Then why do you stay?'
   'Long shadows. Dark nights. As far from the Shogun's throne as a man can be, and a thousand and one myths to keep superstitious eyes away.'
   'I thought oni were just that.' Yukiko looked at her hand, curling and uncurling her fingers. 'Stories to frighten the simple and the young.'
   'I am afraid not.'
   'Where do they come from?'
   Daichi blinked, as if he didn't quite understand the question.
   'From Yomi, of course.'
   'Yomi?' Her voice fairly dripped skepticism. 'The deepest hell?'
   'Hai.' His reply was flat. Iron. 'The deepest hell.'
   'But the old tales...' Yukiko shook her head. 'Even is they're true, the gate to Yomi was sealed shut. And the stormdancer Tora Takehiko gave his life to see that it would remain forever closed. My father used to tell us that story all the time.'
   'It was a great sacrifice,' Daichi nodded. 'But the cracks are big enough for the little ones to slip through.'
   'The great boulder that the Maker God pushed into place over the Devil Gate is only stone. Stone breaks under enough force. Enough hate.'
   'So it's all true? The old stories? The myths my father told us at bedtime?'
   Daichi tilted his head and frowned, motioned toward Buruu.
   'You walked into this village with a thunder tiger beside you. You have slain demons with your own hands. Are the old myths really that hard to believe?
   'They wouldn't be myths otherwise, would they?'
   'Then have a care, Yukiko-chan,' Daichi smiled. 'Keeping the company of the last arashitora in Shima sounds like an excellent way to become a myth yourself.'
"To resist is to piss in the wind
Anyone who does will end up smelling
Knowing this, why do I defy?
Because my inner voice is yelling
There is a fist pressing against
Anyone who thinks something compelling
Our intuit we're taught to deny
And our soul we're told is for selling

Get out from under them
Resist and multiply
Get out from under precipice and see the sky
Get out from under them
Resist, unlearn, defy
Get out from under precipice and see the sky

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Blogger Lilian said...

*skim skim skim skim*
Not sure about the steampunk aspect, since I am not a big steampunk fan...
And then I realize I actually have no idea what the book is about aside from the fact it's cover is badass, so the heroine must be badass as well. Weird logic.
I love a good fight scene any day~

September...hurry up...
Lilian @ A Novel Toybox

August 8, 2012 at 8:46 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

Steampunk is awesome! Honestly, you could just pretend it's a fantasy novel and not worry about the fact that some of the people were real people.

The cover IS badass. There are some good fight scenes for sure.

August 8, 2012 at 9:18 AM  
Blogger Donna Gambale said...

Great review! I definitely still want to read the book, but I really appreciate you clearing up misconceptions about what to expect.

August 8, 2012 at 2:12 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

No problem! I loved it and I think a lot of readers definitely will, but it's a far cry from books like Divergent.

August 8, 2012 at 3:03 PM  
Anonymous Katie @ BlookGirl said...

What a great review, Christina! I'm so glad I read this before diving into the book myself, because I totally would have had the same misconceptions that you pointed out. Buruu sounds amazing! I can't wait to "meet" all of these amazing characters :-)

August 8, 2012 at 3:14 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

Dude, you will freaking love Buruu! This is a fact. I just know. :-D

Yeah, sometimes I wonder about marketing choices. Just because there's a teen in it and YA is popular doesn't mean a book needs to be classified YA. Oh well. What matters is that Stormdancer is amazing.

August 8, 2012 at 3:55 PM  
Blogger Lilian said...

I think my "ehhhh" feelings toward steampunk has to do with Soulless by Gail Carringer that I'm in the middle of reading. I am just SO bored with that one, but I'm not sure if it's the steampunk or the Victorian styled writing that's the issue.

August 8, 2012 at 5:14 PM  
Blogger Vivien said...

Excellent review. I haven't read a really comprehensive one until now. This books sounds utterly fascinating. Definitely something unique and really refreshing!

August 8, 2012 at 5:24 PM  
Blogger G. Donald Cribbs said...

It's interesting the way books are categorized. That aside, I've read the preview chapters and am stoked to read this one. It's an interesting paradox that Jay's personality is so Joss Whedon and his writing style is so epic fantasy. Thanks for clearing that up. I was nervous to read the review, since I haven't read more, and I don't want to stumble upon spoilers, but I appreciate your deft handling of that aspect. This did what a good review is supposed to do: it makes me want to read the book even more. Thanks a lot.

August 8, 2012 at 9:48 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Great Review! I can not WAIT to read this book! The books sounds even more amazing now!

August 9, 2012 at 1:32 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

I haven't read that one so I can't voice an opinion. Well, the way to figure it out is to read MORE steampunk. :-D

August 9, 2012 at 8:03 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

Thanks! I always try to be comprehensive. Stormdancer is definitely unique and wonderful!

August 9, 2012 at 8:04 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

Glad I'm not the only one who found Jay's personality so Whedon-esque! Jay does write with humor and dark things do happen, but he definitely doesn't put as much focus on humor as Whedon does.

Oh good! I totally understand people not wanting to read full reviews for things they haven't read. I don't do it myself. :-p

August 9, 2012 at 8:05 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

It so is!

August 9, 2012 at 8:05 AM  
Blogger Lynn K. said...

Izanagi's balls, excellent review! I really enjoyed reading it. It's been a month since I read Stormdancer and I'm still struggling to write a review that does it justice. I think I'll direct everyone who is wary of all the hype surrounding it here. x)

I didn't really realize how long the story was due to it looking quite thin, by the time I did I was wishing it would never end. I loved how the Japanese names and terms flowed as well.

August 9, 2012 at 8:18 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

Bahahaha! I love that epithet!

Thank you so much! It means so much that you think I did Stormdancer justice. I didn't think I'd quite captured all of its glory, but it may be that no one can.

Haha, yeah, it's a long book for sure. I wonder if the final version is going to be packaged like the ARC? Probably, because if they want to sell to teens, they probably don't want it to be MASSIVE.

August 9, 2012 at 8:29 AM  
Blogger Lilian said...


August 9, 2012 at 9:04 AM  
Blogger Lynn K. said...

I think so, Amazon lists it as 3xx pages. It's good, in a way...I'm currently reading Froi of the Exiles and it's huge and so so so heavy. >.>

August 9, 2012 at 9:18 AM  
Blogger Christina said...



Or Westerfeld's Leviathan trilogy. Something Strange and Deadly. Dearly, Departed.

August 9, 2012 at 9:22 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

I'm fine with them packaging it this way. It's just funny, because reading 300 pages took way longer than usual. Haha. This is why I don't use # of pages read as an indication of how much I've read. 1 Divergent page probably equals about 1/3 of a Stormdancer page. The number of pages means very little.

August 9, 2012 at 9:27 AM  
Blogger Alessandra said...

*mostly skimming through this*
Another book marketed as dystopian when it isn't? Duh. I'm reading a galley of The City's Son by Tom Pollock. I'm pretty sure I saw it somewhere marketed as dystopian, at least by the US publisher. Well, I'm a bit more than halfway through and there's nothing dystopian in it. It's urban fantasy, very well-written, and a pleasant surprise, but not what I was expecting. I wish publishers would stop labelling books in misleading ways just to ride on the Hunger Games success. Creating false expectations, in my opinion, can hurt a book's chances of success.

Stormdancer sounds awesome, but prices on BookDepository are expensive at the moment. According to BookDepo, the US edition has 336 pages and the UK 352 pages - the font must be tiny. As I have so many other books at home that I haven't read yet, I might as well practise restraint and wait for the paperback :(

(Sorry for assaulting your blog with comments. You're my new favourite blogger.)

August 9, 2012 at 10:01 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

Oh wait, nope. Mis-skim. It's definitely a dystopia! Lol! I can see why you would assume that was the point, but no. It's an epic fantasy dystopian. I was saying that it's marketed as YA and it's not particularly. There's a teen heroine, but it's not just about her and it's not at all about the issues facing a teenager. Definitely dystopian though. Sort of environmental dystopia.

The font isn't especially tiny, but the book is larger than usual and the margins are small. That's how they did it. The price is a bit high. Oof. However, on the plus side, it's really good AND it's long, so you are getting more book than for a lot of them.

AWWW! I love when people assault my blog with comments! It's my favorite. I really need to go check out yours. Will do now!

August 9, 2012 at 10:21 AM  
Blogger Anita Yancey said...

I loved your review. This book sounds amazing. I'm really intrigued by the thunder tiger. Can't wait to read the book. Thanks!

August 11, 2012 at 9:35 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

Thanks! It is amazing!

August 12, 2012 at 7:15 PM  
Blogger Angie said...

Reading about how Stormdancer seems to blur the boundaries of YA and Adult fantasy at first made me worry. I mean, many epic fantasies for adults have some form of sexual immorality. As I continued on, I realized that Stormdancer is more than just some kingdom getting destroyed and having to have random prostitutes around. It seems that Stormdancer focuses more on the action and steampunk, rather than character turmoil.

August 17, 2012 at 1:50 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

Oh dear! I wonder what epic fantasies you've been reading! Stormdancer does have romance and there is some sex, but it's not the main focus at all and it's not graphic. The characters are fantastic and well-drawn; they DO have inner turmoil, but it's not necessarily sexual turmoil. I don't remember any prostitutes, so I think you're safe on that count.

There's also lots of action and steampunky goodness!

August 17, 2012 at 2:08 PM  
Blogger Kayla Beck said...

I wasn't going to read the review all the way through because I have Stormdancer on the Nook to be read ASAP. However, I'm out of other methods of procrastination. Your review was awesome and unspoilery, and it would make me want to read the book even more if that was a possibility. (It's not.) *kicks A Game of Thrones and review books*

August 20, 2012 at 1:45 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

Bahaha! I always aim to keep my reviews unspoilery, because I know I usually want to punch spoilers in the face. You have to watch out in my negative reviews, because I'm all 'fuck it, that's the only way to explain why this is the worst.'


August 20, 2012 at 1:46 PM  
Blogger Jaime Lester said...

Thanks for the wonderful review of Stormdancer, and the mini side-rant about the lines between YA and Adult fiction. When I get done here, I will head over and read Jays thoughts on the subject, for curiosities sake. From reading the interview that you have up with Jay, I would have definitely assumed humor would at least have a small part to play in Stormdancer. I am a little shocked that it doesn't seem to, but that in no way detracts from my desire to read this boo ASAP. I am seriously looking forward to it. And now, thanks to your review, I am not worried in the least that we won't be compatible. Can't wait to get my hands on this book. Thanks so much for your awesome review!

August 22, 2012 at 5:01 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

There isn't no humor, but I expected it to be a primary aspect. There are certainly some funny lines, but the mood of the book isn't humorous.


August 23, 2012 at 8:47 AM  
Blogger Kayla Beck said...

Haha, like the one you sent to me? *dies laughing*

August 28, 2012 at 5:15 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

There were no spoilers in there! I don't think. Were there? Ack. Meh. Don't care.

August 29, 2012 at 8:59 AM  
Blogger Nori said...

You just made me want to read this book even more than I already did. It just sounds so unique and so awesome!

August 29, 2012 at 11:07 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

Yeah! And I know you like some high fantasy, so you should be able to love this!

August 30, 2012 at 9:37 AM  
Blogger Zemira said...

Everyone's been raving about this book and i can't wait to read it. I got an ARC from NG but I've recently won an ARC from a giveaway and I'm waiting for that copy to arrive. Can't wait to read it!

August 31, 2012 at 6:56 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

Congrats! It's all kinds of wonderful!

August 31, 2012 at 9:09 PM  
Blogger Vinny K said...

I love dystopian novels and this one seems like a winner!

August 31, 2012 at 10:38 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

Most def!

September 4, 2012 at 8:54 AM  

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