Did I get your attention with my title? ;-)
Today's my birthday and Tynga has graciously given me free reign to write something a little different. (Thanks, T!) Instead of posting a review, I'm going to elaborate on a point I made when I first talked about Jay Kristoff's STORMDANCER: the idea that his writing reminded me of Joss Whedon's.
Here's what I said in my post last month:
Jay Kristoff's writing is Whedonesque. This is one of the highest compliments I can pay because I think Joss Whedon is absolutely brilliant. He writes beautifully complex female characters living in gorgeously imagined worlds where no one is safe and anything can happen. And you know what? Jay Kristoff does, too.
Don't believe me? By the end of this post, I hope to have you convinced. If nothing else, I hope this this will inspire all the fans of the Whedonverse to give STORMDANCER a try! I'm going to use Buffy as my main point of comparison but I'm pretty sure some Firefly references are going to sneak in, too. =)
Why Whedonites will love STORMDANCER
Strong, complex female characters
This is probably Joss Whedon's hallmark. He always writes great female characters. Some are physically gifted, others aren't, some are flawed, but they're always well developed, incredible women: Buffy, Zoe, Faith, River, Darla, Willow, Echo, Kaylee...The list goes on and on. With STORMDANCER, Jay Kristoff has created a wonderful lead character in Yukiko, and the supporting female characters are nothing to sneeze at, either. (I'm thinking particularly of Aisha, Michi, and Kasumi, who are all different but are all fierce and strong in their own ways.)
At first glance, Yukiko and Buffy may seem nothing alike. Yukiko is a teenager whose family hunts for the Shogun in a feudal, steampunk Japan. Buffy is a teenager who fights evil on the Hellmouth in modern day Sunnydale, California, at least in the early years of the TV show. (We're just going to pretend the movie didn't happen, no matter how much love I have for Donald Sutherland.) But you know what? They have a lot in common. They're both bold young women with special gifts -- Yukiko has a kenning and can communicate with animals, Buffy is the Slayer, in case you've been living under a rock -- and they both wrestle with their roles. (And don't forget about River and her whole I-can-kill-people-with-my-brain thing.) They make decisions with their hearts and they are sometimes reluctant leaders in their respective battles. They're also both capable of effecting incredible change in their worlds. (I won't say too much about this to avoid spoilers for those of you who weren't lucky enough to get an early copy or live in Australia, where it's been out for a week.)
Over the course of STORMDANCER, Yukiko learns to stand up for what she believes in, hones her talents, and becomes enmeshed in political change trying to help her country. There are parallels with a lot of coming-of-age stories, which includes Buffy's journey, growing up, trying to save the world from all sorts of evil, supernatural and otherwise. They're both isolated because of their gifts, forced to hide the abilities from some of their closest friends and family.
(To be fair, the men are also wonderfully written. Like them or hate them, the men in STORMDANCER jump off the page, just like my favourite male inhabitants of the Whedonverse.)
I always love the worlds Joss Whedon creates (or adapts, in the case of The Avengers). My favourite is Firefly's setting -- a delicious world filled with cowboys, spaceships, Chinese curse words, and amazing cultural integration 500 years in the future. The Buffyverse is no less well developed, with rich mythology and tons of metaphors. Even the Dollhouse world is intensely creative, particularly in the Epitaphs episodes. STORMDANCER also takes place in a well crafted and inventive world. I love the use of Japanese mythology and social structure and the innovations that come with the steampunk spin.
Wicked cool creatures
I wasn't able to come up with a better title for this part. I suppose it's a subset of the world building but I think it merits its own section because the Whedonverse and STORMDANCER are populated with some incredible creatures of legend. STORMDANCER has arashitori -- super cool thunder tigers! I don't think I've read anything where griffins have played such a prominent role. And Buruu is a great example of a character who starts off seeming monstrous but ends up having a lot of depth. You see the same thing in the Whedonverse. Some of his creations are monstruous, like the Gentlemen, but there are also characters like Clem, who have intimidating outsides and squishy insides.
Of course, STORMDANCER also has monsters that are monsters, in the shape of oni, Japanese demons, which you don't see everyday in the literature. It also has monsters that don't look at all villainous, which you can see in a lot of the Joss Whedon programmes.
This last quality isn't really exclusive to these two men but it's definitely worth mentioning. You can have all sorts of neat ideas for characters and setting and plot, but it's not worth much to me if it's poorly delivered. I value strong writing and these two have that in spades. They bring crisp dialogue, beautiful imagery, and engrossing narrative in their work and it keeps you hooked!
I could go on and on but I don't want to spoil STORMDANCER for anyone so I think this is a good place to stop. Have I convinced you? Are you pre-ordering your copies of STORMDANCER now? =) Let me know what you think in the comments or find me on Twitter. I'd love to hear your take!
For more info on the STORMDANCER blog tour, click here.
The scoop of STORMDANCER:
The first in an epic new fantasy series, introducing an unforgettable new heroine and a stunningly original dystopian steampunk world with a flavor of feudal Japan.
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.