After a handy dandy random “This book is for English speaking audience” comment I received on my blog (since I am currently using English, please enlighten me about how I don’t fit into the English-speaking audience) I made a decision to review Kinslayer rather than rewriting my angst-ridden negative review on Stormdancer and rehashing the discussion because frankly I want the bygones to be bygones but the issues with this series seems to latch upon me whenever I try to forget about it. But I’ll try to be more professional about why this book is again abhorrent and that the slight improvements doesn’t outweigh the catastrophic mess anyone would do to the story. This time, I won’t focus on the Japanese language this book use since apparently all the noise about that didn’t change much except omitting out the awkward “Hai, sama” words but still retain the stereotypical Asian-speak.
While the book tries to balance the chosen historical elements into the story, I don’t feel the steampunk elements was ever intended to take major spotlight as the book touted it would be since it was still heavy with the pseudo-blendered-Japan elements. I also began to understand why it was necessary for the author to include those pseudo-Japanese speak in this book. Without the sprinkling of random google-translated Japanese, the writing suffered tremendously especially in dialogues. Instead of focusing on the storytelling, the narratives were bombarded by chapters and chapters of neverending unnecessary expositions from flutters of eyelashes to the weather to the slight motions of things to create some atmospheric comic book quality to it rather than using it to give the story some relevance to it. At this point, I wonder why nobody think this was suitable for graphic novels rather than actual novels. I am more forgiving to these types of descriptiveness but the story isn’t linear but separated in multiple point of views that the descriptives drown everything. This also means, whatever plot this book have within four hundred pages, it can be compressed to a quarter of that amount without losing anything.
The dialogues doesn’t help at all. While the exposition parts bulged with gargantuan grandiose romanticized ways of seeing things and extremely lengthy in pseudo-poetic style that was similar to something you find in bad literary fictions, the dialogues was too stunted, unnatural, unemotive, bland and repetitive. I’m not sure whether this came from listening too much bad American translated animes but how on earth anyone could read them and think everyone normally speak that way? The dialogues came out like it was being constipated by the expositions of heavy fillers and bad haikus and miserable sentence structures. While I’m still not the right person to talk about grammar syntax and errors as I’m educated in science rather than English language, but it was painful to see native English user to butcher their own grammars just to suit the way they think Asian speak rather than giving some clarity for the plot to work. Asians do not. Speak. In short form. To be vaguely mysterious. Exotic or to be in. The State of Bad Haikus. Where normally. You call that as retard. While I call them racist. Extreme enough for you?
And what the hell with is with these “Izanagi’s balls”. Personally, I don’t care about profanities in YAs but this is another level of ridiculosity. Balls? Why not go for “testicles” while you’re at it. I’ve seen variants of Christian blasphemous curse words in English literature from all types of limbs and orifices but replacing usual words and applying it to Shinto’s deities doesn’t have the impact when Izanagi mean “He Who Invites” rather than God which is “Kami-sama” is. “He Who Invites’ balls” doesn’t have that sort of impact and I don’t see whether it was necessary. What happen to the the usual “Go die/Shi-nee”,”Shit/Chikuso”, “Bastard or literally Shit-hole/Kusoyaro”? Sometimes I see random “fuck” somewhere which I think it was the point when someone just give up in making up words for everything.
As for characters, unlike the previous book, Yukiko have an even lesser amount of space given to her other than some romance and random conflicts she have either being whatever she became into that she collected this long list of names that kept changing all the time or the predictable consequence from the last book which I expected from the start when our special girl began having some physical changes. While the character got stuck in that situation, the book began to invested itself by bringing in another sets of characters rather than working out the existing situation. Because of the writing style, there was no distinction to the passive multiple narratives and the plot progression. There were political conflicts, some love drama, some absolutely weird drama, some social commentary, some new characters but personally this book became less about the Stormdancer and more invested into getting lost in the translation. Somehow the Stormdancer regressed in this book and I’m not sure how you could still use the strong female character term again with this book since everyone is hateful in some ways or another. There was a several female degradation parts in this novel from the torture of the Shit Girl to the details about how one is honorless or something to sexualization to slut-shaming. Does it really add to the narratives?
Another thing weird about this book was it was trying an inception of appropriating another culture in cultural-appropriated novel. Yes, in real time Japan there are people who can be intentionally offensive with another because they don’t fit their own spectrum of everything and are ignorant about them but so was the rest of the planet. The most you could do was to make people see each other as human as they are, to understand them and empathise with their culture and society norms and at least educate them rather than maintain this bubble of ignorance. Choosing another aspect of having an intolerant narrative from that culture to fit into storytelling doesn’t solve anything when the narrative was biased to begin with.
I became motivated to read this book after reading Ellen Oh’s piece on cultural appropriation from one of the reviewer that give me another reason to read this book even though I wish my brain never meet this book. Because frankly, why wouldn’t I be personally involved in this matter? As an Asian writer who had spend most of her life seeing the negative effects of cultural appropriation within my own society, I kept often seeing people being told to shut up about it because it was “provoking the cultural harmony” or “you offended me, and I’m rich and influential enough that my opinion matter so you can go to jail now” scenario. Seriously, why do people with even less restrictive law on freedom of speech took their privilege for granted? This “Get Out of Jail Free” card people use just because they think they have the better opinion on other culture by holding the majority’s threshold level of what they deem as offensive. There’s a way to work out the matter rationally by discussing it and took measure of working out the problem but making the matter even worse like perpetuating the stereotype even further and washing the hands off whenever someone get offended by it. Cultural appropriation is racist. Just because you’re an author of a fictional work, it doesn’t mean you get a license to to blend complex cultures to suit your fantasies. All of these is just a fanfiction and a pale imitation to the slight interest the author have to the medium he said he was a fan of. To think that this book was traditional published and is a collaboration and edited was unbelievable. This book series appropriated Japanese culture and Steampunk itself is to the equivalent of how Fifty Shades of Gray appropriated BDSM and romance. Is that how publishers and editors and book PR and the industry was reduced into?
There was all sort of things going wrong in this book but if you love it as it is, I guess I couldn’t judge people’s taste in books. But one of the things that was obvious is that your tolerance to these level of ethnic and cultural parody and false presentation as acceptable, then I lost my faith that it was possible for the book industry to change when the readers themselves didn’t want this to change and so in a broader spectrum, unique cultures are forever being misrepresented and isolated and exotified unless they have some entertainment value.
This book series represent all the shallowness of these superficial modern imperialism. I’m sad that it could have been a better unique and great story set in the culture or loosely based on multiple Asian cultures (like The Last Airbender) and a good installment to an otherwise would-be interesting book which could attract even more wider demographic. One thing that is certain that the book loses out multiple potential sales by being culturally ignorant as it is and even if you try to hype it and sell the idea around to the intended Japanese steampunk audience or make more adaptations out of it, I don’t think you would gain anything other than the series being an example of a writer’s don’t while making an Asian-inspired story. If you want to look creative in fantasy world-building using real life culture while not offending anyone, don’t use identifiable markers that define that culture that made it a mockery rather than a tribute. At least, travel and meet people of that culture and understand them better before trying to use them out of spite. Historically, Japanese culture aren’t that clean-slated either but if you want to bring the darker aspect of their history to make it yours with some modern twists or so, the least amount of the things you could do was study, respect them and educate yourself about them. For writers, creative license doesn’t protect you from immaturity and idiocy and it is not even attractive.