I didn’t manage to keep my expectations in check while reading this book and see what good it did me. Thanks to all the pre-publication buzz, my expectations were incredibly high. But the book and I didn’t quite click. I agree with other readers that Stormdancer might be considered smarter than your average YA novel in terms of thematic approach and style. However, so many pitfalls should have been avoided instead of taken full in the face. I sort of liked Yukiko and Buruu. I appreciated Yukiko’s dad and his associates. I found the world-building all right, even though it took forever and still remained rather vague in parts. The intrigue was not uninteresting. The style was more elaborate than usual, but still did not quite manage to grab my attention. I’m struggling to come up with nice things to say about the book, even though I did not hate it.
Why did I not love the novel as a whole? Was it the rather slow pace and the overlong exposition? Was it the constant repetition of gestures and concepts? Was it the hammering home of the moralistic message? Yes, lotus smoke is bad for people and environment. Yes, the government is bad and nature is sacred. I got that already! Was it the occasional info-dumping? Was it the love at first sight? Was it the green-eyed love interest that couldn’t be more clichéd and alien to the setting at the same time? Was it the threat of a love triangle, which, admittedly, was almost resolved to my satisfaction? Was it the portrayal of the supposedly strong female heroine through a male gaze that put her in a position where she was repeatedly in need of help from a male(!) character? Was it the way mythology and political history were thrown in haphazardly with no attempt being made to explore them in more depth?
I really can’t put my finger on it and I guess it was a combination of all of the above plus some more that left me seriously disappointed and underwhelmed. I just wasn’t nearly as thrilled and dazzled as I expected to me, which really translates to “not at all.”
While in my case ignorance was bliss, and I didn’t even notice that a book that was being advertised as Japanese steampunk did a blotched up job at correctly representing and depicting the Japanese language and culture, I absolutely sympathise with those readers who know a lot (or just something) about Japan, and Asian cultures in general, and who complain about the misappropriation of linguistic and cultural aspects in this novel. I usually don’t read too much into the setting of a fantasy novel. It’s fantasy. It’s an alternate reality and setting. The places and traditions depicted in fantasy literature are not meant to be accurate representations of a particular epoch or country in “real” historical terms. These worlds might have some similarities to what we know as Europe or Africa or Asia or whatever and events might be inspired by the War of the Roses, the war of independence, the civil war, any of the World Wars, etc., but might otherwise be completely different. Languages evolve, customs change. BUT if you blatantly advertise your work as Japanese, you might want to make sure that it passes some critical testing. As I indicated above, I know next to nothing about Asian cultures and so the author’s failure to provide accurate information about these cultures, did not affect my pleasure in reading the novel (there were quite enough shortcomings to take care of that) nor my rating, I understand why more knowledgeable readers would be upset by the handling of these aspects. Would an author decide to choose my cultural background (or a culture I know a bit more about) as the inspiration for their work and then totally misrepresent it, I would be frothing at the mouth and rant on for several pages. In fact, I have stopped reading books because their authors included characters speaking a version of German that had no semblance to existing grammatical structures, and I was unable to convince myself that the author was intentionally inventing a possible future, or alternative, version of the language. For me it was a sign of utter lack of research and editing, and hence a sign of gross disrespect, not of the language or culture but to any reader of the novels. Cultural appropriation for the sake of artistic inspiration has to be handled in a tactful and sensitive way.
I still can’t say for sure why I did not like Stormdancer. I’m pretty sure that I would have enjoyed a book where Yukiko and Buruu got to know each other slowly, in long conversations and tracks around the country, maybe involving the occasional fight with the demons and exploring their origins and significance along the way. I would have liked that. The author could have taken his time recounting the blossoming of the friendship and the bond between those two. Maybe throw in the occasional flashback to include Yukiko’s strained relationship with her father. Alas, he didn’t write the book on my request, so I’ll have to live with what I chose to spend my money on. Lots of people seem to have liked the novel a lot. I didn’t like it enough to consider reading the next one. There are so many unread books out there. There must be another one worth my time and