Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff

EDIT: This is the original review for Netgalley but for a thoroughly edited version : http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/332496960

 

Stormdancer is a Young Adult Fantasy fiction about a Kitsune Yukiko and her father was sent to find a mythical creature for their shogun. The novel consisted of 35 chapers with various point of views from Yukiko, Masaru, the Arashitora, the Shogun and some others. It have glossary at the end of the book because the author uses Japanese words while writing and there’s tremendous descriptive writing accompanied with every scenes that spans from raindrops, smells and the furniture.

Stormdancer is one of the most highly anticipated novel in YA communities for a good reason. Its asian-inspired steampunk and the cover is a girl with a sword. Generally its well-liked by most reviewers who like reading manga and anime. Its foreign, its interesting.

But not if you are someone who already familiarize with the genre. I’m sorry Mr Kristoff, your book is possibly top as the most disappointing hyped book in this quarter of the year.

Language and Settings

Why on earth is it necessary to put this mess just to show the book is intended to be Asian-inspired.

Was it even edited? Yes, apparently I have no problem when the story went away from the descriptive mess in English but was the Japanese edited?

Kanji is not a symbol. It’s a bloody WORD! Plus, there’s also hiragana and katagana and I was amazed there’s actually none of that in this book.

I don’t read the glossary at the end because it’s an eARC. But I’m officially bilingual in Malay and English but I do have intermediate japanese fluency. I can read some traditional chinese and so kanji is sort of transition for me. In fact, while I was a hardcore otaku, I read manga in japanese because american version are too darn expensive. I can understand some basic spoken Japanese in movies without the subtitles. So some of the japanese in this book shouldn’t be problematic right?

Dead Wrong.

Hai is actually “Hi/Hello” in Malay. So when I see, “Hai, sama”, I actually think “Hai, sama-sama.” (Hi, you’re welcome).

I think someone just ctrl-replace all “yes” in the novel with “hai”, which brings up to awkward stunted phrases in a sentence. And this happened every chapters.

There’s one of the thing about English that I don’t like which was the failure to understand the polite sentences and suffix.

Malay do have several types of languages within languages including classical, standardized, street slangs, regional accents, lingo and palace language. Besides being considered as a Malay, I’m also half javanese and my grandfather and dad understand javanese palace language but not the normal javanese. This also applied to Japanese which have their own classical, regional accents, street slangs, standardized language and palace speak. So essentially, Asian languages are hard but in this book, what confuses me was the abject ignorance of these things.

Let’s start with the suffix. There’s “chan”, “san” and “sama”. However, these are suffix. It NEVER mean ANYTHING on their own. You don’t call people with “sama”. We call them with names like Mr Teddy with Teddy-san or Teddy-sama or Teddy-chan. Not just “sama”. Its not something you replace on the word “sir”.

I’m seeing these “Hai, sama” on situation with a leader and subordinate in this book and it ALWAYS crack me up. Haha. And then I facepalmed.

And “Hai” it’s actually ハイツ. Ha-i-tsu (silent つ).  Thats why normally in literature we wrote it as “Hait”, if you say haitsu fast you’ll say it as ‘ha-it’ too and usually people say haiiiiiiii! “ハイイイイイイイイイ!” in prolonged sentence. Thats quite simple enough but saying such thing alone is considered as stunted and unconvincing so thats why people have polite sentences like “kudasai”, “oneigaishimasu”, “desuka” and et cetera at the end of a word.

So if a Shogunate wanted you to find a griffin, instead of you say “Hai, my lord. It will be so.” (my brain read it like : Hello, my lord. It will be so.) You would certainly say, “Certainly, my lord. We will do as you commanded it”. There.. simple as it is and even if someone read it in japanese, it won’t be deviating so much and it does add to your word count.

There’s also the nagging “Aiya” suddenly emerged when someone babbled. Aiya is actually a Chinese expression, 哎呀. Hollywood often hired chinese actors in japanese roles or korean actors in chinese roles so people immediately assume that asians talk that way. I say “aiya” in my normal conversation (thats Malaysian for you) which usually accompanied by a sigh in distress or frustrating or hurt.  There’s THOUSANDS of expression that you can use but why is it necessary this way?

‘Gaijin’ isnt just reserved to white people. It’s also reserved to Koreans, Chinese, Malay and Indians. I live in Malaysia, the place where Japanese conquered us (including British army) while the Alliance concentrate on the western Axis in WW2. We suffered because the Japanese have free run on this side of the world and being brainwashed to like to behead people for every offense, we don’t even go to war at all because we’re constantly being oppressed by Europeans for hundred of years until the communist era.

And Asians generally dont label people with the shape of their eyes. If you’re in my country, we have every single types of eyes shapes. “Round eyes” is not a curse nor a derogatory word. Even Horikita Maki (Hanazakari no Kimitachie) is round eyes and so is japanese with natural round eyes. They lived near Russia for heaven sakes, that a lot of genetic mixing to stereotype a nation.

And Gods, is usually refered to as kamisama 神様. Even if the book have their own gods but it wouldnt hurt to just generalized as ‘okamisama’ or ‘izanamisama’ or ‘izanamikamisama’ instead of “Lord Izanami” in every single repetition. I thought that was actually a person which confused me again!

嵐虎 aka “Arashitora”. That is actually not that wrong in Chinese but its usually written like this 嵐の虎 (arashinotora) so the word “Arashitora” is a very reserved to this book.

And as for the title “Stormdancer”, at the end of the book,  I think its more suitable to name it as “Stormrider”. Yes, there’s a comic series on that but you don’t dance on the Arashitora, do you? Or the name itself is copyrighted but I’m not convinced even with the title.

and of course the places… Shima island. Yama city. Sigh… you see, shima is island. so putting repetetive “island island” to denote as a place is very tardy. Yama is mountain. Mountain city? Isn’t that unimaginative.  You could have any other kanji with single word that can mean a thousand things to pair with places and you choose… *sigh*

Even if I have basic japanese fluency, the  constant made up words in this book is very difficult to enjoy for a casual reader.

Other than that, the dialogues is weak and a whole lot of mess. Despite the lengthy narratives on description of a person belongings, or colour of the hair or dress or house, there’s actually barely decent conversations in this book which is quite off-putting.

Why cant the dialogues be like a normal conversation without these streotyped Asianized-movie-talking-english-trying-to-sound-asian thing. I speak asian english which make sense because I’m 100% Asian. But do you speak in stunted phrases while discussing inane things? Its a story where everyone speak japanese to each other. The dialogues shouldn’t be this weird hybrid of bad Asian dubbed movies. Marisa Meyer’s Cinder (Beijing-setting YA steampunk) is possibly a good example of an author who doesn’t try so hard to make their characters sounded Asian but ARE Asians. Just write normally in English because its a pain to read even for a non-native English user like me.

Characterization and Romance

Kitsune Yukiko – I really wanted to like her but I find her bland as a girl with a sword and very basic archetypal. Baby Doll (Emily Browning) is much more likable than Yukiko. You don’t add a sword to a girl and expect me to buy that she’s awesome strong character. Her character description is very basic and unimaginative. I can’t even find myself enjoying her journey to the end of the book

I was expecting like this

instead of this

Arashitora/Buruu – I’m quite disturbed that the book uses CAPITALIZED WORDS FOR HIS DIALOGUES. My eyes were wide to capture those words. Other than that his first scene on the ship  and the forest part is the only bright part of this novel, but to the end of this book, I’m still not impressed because his characterization jumped from Agressive to Sympathetic in the middle of the book and then he became a pet character in the end. Its like pokemon characters. Its like Satoshi captured a fierce legendary creature after a long fight and then onced pokeballed they become best friends after some brooding and gruff. Whaa-?

Kin and Hiro – The infamous love triangle. Actually, I never see a love triangle because I’m still working out with the bulk of the descriptiveness to detect the existence of one. I get about Kin’s plot but when Hiro came into the story, it goes out of the spectrum with Yukiko’s motivation. If she even have one, she seemed to jump into conclusions, make friends, get into trouble and stuff but I never see the sense of adding a romantic storyline in a story thats basically wasn’t about a romantic storyline. There’s no build up in Yukiko and Hiro relationship nor sensuous attraction (and all these descriptives about the eyes and how beautiful Yukiko doesn’t count!) and then suddenly they’re willing to cross the line when they basically don’t know each other! That’s not how you build epic romance! in fact its a waste of space in this novel. Since the Stormdancer is supposed to be a serial so why couldn’t it be prolonged into a cliffhanger for the next novel?

Theme

The novel is a classic war against drugs, addiction, natural environment, technological advancement, cultural regression and governmental oppression. But it is very black and white in some expect and some scenes are quite preaching.

I have warned people so many times to not include own personal bias in writing like there are certain ways about foreign cultures that a person have no right to say about something they only see superficially from a tv screen. Yes, shogunate and bushido code is oppressive and brain-washing with loyalties and such but so is fascism, political mania, scientific mania, hollywood idolatry and etc. Trying to change something because the superficial is corrupt by saying is wrong is just as assuming every muslim girls who wanted to wear a hijab on their own as ‘oppressive’. This is called superficiality. To convince me that a government is corrupt is just as hard it was to convince me it was not corrupt. Just telling me than shogunate who spend everything to cultivate a disease-causing lotus plant in their country and slaughtering everything doesn’t make it dystopian.

If you read history book, you’ll notice everything is dystopian. If this book highly depended on wikipedia for its terms then everyone should know Sakoku (鎖国, “locked country”) in 17th century Japan. There’s a lot of interesting things happening in the era which this novel can be based on instead on some weak plot about samurai betrayal and a shogun kid acting like a rich kid on a penthouse.

For a couple of weeks trying to get into this book, I was completely exhausted by the attempts and the facepalming my face had to endure. The language made the book difficult to comprehend and the character and dialogue is sparsely entertaining even with lengthy details on descriptive than even HG Wells is readable to a degree.

If the novel is intended to be a complete fictionized East Asian fusion, I might never have to complain these sort of things but alas it is specific on Japanese culture.

I do read richly descriptive books but I do expect the writing to be balanced or complex enough to be engaging. Even if the author is a fan of japanese graphic novels, I wouldn’t be so certain that an otaku would love this novel with the obvious errors and ignorant attitude to Japanese culture. There are probably abundance of steampunk historical fiction of any form in the market and Stormdancer is probably a glance through to avid Japanese otaku readers.

I have tried to like this book. I really do. But despite the language, the style and the characterizations, I really don’t feel the story is engaging as I wanted to. I might not consider the continuation unless these major language inconsistencies is fixed since it does disturbed my reading but the book as a whole is quite standalone on its own for me to sum up my feelings on the story.

This ARC review of Stormdancer is supplied by the publisher St Martin Press via Netgalley. The novel will be published on 18 September 2012.

 

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One thought on “Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff

  1. The book is written in English for an English speaking audience. The foreign words are (obviously) included for flavor and not beholden to the laws of Japanese grammar. The work is a fantasy set in a quasi-Japan. I do not expect the author of such a work to rigidly adhere to the factual cultural history of the place upon which his story is loosely set.

    Your comments on characterization are well thought out and generally i agree but it is after all a YA book and not Tolstoy or Tolkien. My expectations were adjusted accordingly.

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