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 Shogun 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 Shogun 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 Shogun’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.
About the Author
Jay Kristoff grew up in the second most isolated capital city on earth and fled at his earliest convenience, although he’s been known to trek back for weddings of the particularly nice and funerals of the particularly wealthy. Being the holder of an arts degree, he has no education to speak of. He is six feet seven inches and has approximately 13,870 days to live. He lives in Melbourne with his wife and the world’s laziest Jack Russell terrier. Visit him online at JayKristoff.com.
Read an Excerpt
By Jay Kristoff
Thomas Dunne BooksCopyright © 2012 Jay Kristoff
All right reserved.
CHAPTER ONE: Yukiko
As the iron war club scythed toward her head, Yukiko couldn’t help wishing she’d listened to her father.
She rolled aside as her cover was smashed to kindling, azalea petals drifting over the oni’s shoulders like perfumed snowflakes. The demon loomed above her, twelve feet high, all iron-tipped tusks and long, jagged fingernails. Stinking of open graves and burning hair, skin of polished midnight blue, eyes like funeral candles bathing the forest with guttering light. The club in its hands was twice as long as Yukiko was tall. One direct hit, and she would never see the samurai with the sea-green eyes again.
“Well, that’s clever,” she chided herself, “thinking about boys at a time like this.”
A spit-soaked roar pushed her hard in the chest, scattering a cloud of sparrows from the temple ruins at her back. Lightning licked the clouds, bathing the whole scene in fleeting, brilliant white: the endless wilds, the stranded sixteen-year-old girl, and the pit demon poised to cave in her skull.
Yukiko turned and ran.
Trees stretched in every direction, a steaming snarl of roots and undergrowth, stinking of green rot. Branches whipped her face and tore her clothes, rain and sweat slicked her skin. She touched the fox tattoo sleeving her right arm, tracing its nine tails in prayer. The demon behind her bellowed as she slipped away, over root and under branch, deeper into the suffocating heat.
She screamed for her father. For Kasumi or Akihito. For anybody.
And nobody came.
The trees erupted and toppled in front of her, cleft to the heartwood by an enormous ten-span sword. Another oni appeared through the shower of falling green, tombstone mask for a face, lips pierced with rusted iron rings. Yukiko dived sideways as the great sword swept overhead, clipping her braid. Strands of long, black hair drifted down to the dead leaves.
She was rolling to her feet when the oni snatched her up, quicker than flies, its awful grip making her cry out. She could read the blasphemous kanji symbols carved on its necklace, feel the heat gleaming from its flesh. The first oni arrived, bellowing in delight. Her captor opened its jaws, a black maggot tongue lolling between its teeth.
She drew her tantō and stabbed the demon’s hand, burying six inches of folded steel to the hilt. Blood sprayed, black and boiling where it touched her skin. The oni roared and hurled her against a nearby cedar. Her skull cracked against the trunk and she crashed earthward, rag-doll limp, the bloody knife skittering from her grip. Darkness reached up to smother her and she desperately clawed it away.
Not like this.
The first demon’s laughter reminded her of screaming children, burning on Guild pyres in the Market Square. Its wounded comrade growled in a dark, backward tongue, stalking forward and raising its sword to end her. Lightning glinted on the blade’s edge, time slowing to a crawl as the blow began to fall. Yukiko thought of her father again, wishing for all the world she’d done what she’d been told for just once in her life.
Thunder cracked overhead. A white shape burst from the undergrowth and landed on the oni’s back; a flurry of razors, broken blue sparks and beating wings. The demon shrieked as the beast tore into its shoulders, ripping mouthfuls of flesh with a blood-slick beak.
The first oni growled, swinging its war club in a broad, hissing arc. Their attacker sprang into the air, tiny whirlwinds of falling leaves and snow-white petals dancing in time to the thrashing of its wings. The demon’s tetsubo slammed across its comrade’s shoulders. Bone splintered under the war club’s impact, the oni’s spine shattering like dark, wet glass. It crumpled to the ground, its last breath spattered in steaming black across Yukiko’s terrified face.
The beast landed off-balance, digging bloodstained claws into the earth.
The oni glanced at its companion’s corpse, shifting the war club from one hand to the other. Howling a challenge, it lifted the weapon and charged. The pair collided, beast and demon, crashing earthward and tumbling about in a flurry of feathers, petals and screams.
Yukiko wiped at the sticky black in her eyes, tried to blink away her concussion. She could make out blurry shapes rolling in the fallen leaves, dark splashes staining the white azalea blossoms. She heard a crunch, a choking gurgle, and then a vast, empty silence.
She blinked into the gloom, pulse throbbing behind her eyes.
The beast emerged from the shadows, feathers stained black with blood. It stalked toward her and lowered its head, growl building in its throat. Yukiko groped toward her tantō, pawing through the muck and sodden leaves for the blade as her eyesight dimmed. The darkness beckoned, arms open wide, promising an end to all of her fear. To be with her brother again. To leave this dying island and its poisoned sky behind. To lie down and finally sleep after a decade of hiding who and what she was.
She closed her eyes and wished she were safe and warm at home, nestled in her blankets, the air tinged blue-black with the smoke from her father’s pipe. The beast opened its beak and roared, a hurricane scream swallowing the light and memories.
Darkness fell completely.
CHAPTER TWO: Hachiman’s Chosen
It was on a sweltering morning two weeks earlier when Yoritomo-no-miya, Seii Taishōgun of the Shima Isles, emerged from his bedchamber, yawned and declared that he wanted a griffin.
His elderly major-domo, Tora Hideo, fell perfectly still. His calligraphy brush hovered over the arrest warrants piled on the table in front of him. Blood lotus smoke curled up from the bone pipe in his left hand, and Hideo squinted through the haze at his master. Even after seven years as Yoritomo’s chief minister, there were still days when he found his Shōgun impossible to read. To laugh, or not to laugh? That was the question.
“My Lord?” he finally ventured.
“You heard. A griffin.”
“My Lord refers to a statue of some kind? A monument, perhaps, to celebrate the bicentennial of the glorious Kazumitsu Dynasty?”
“No. A real one.”
One traitorous eyebrow rose toward Hideo’s hairline.
“But, my Lord . . .” The old man cleared his throat. “Thunder tigers are extinct.”
Dirty opalescent light filtered through the sitting room’s tall bay doors. A vast garden stretched out in the palace grounds below, its trees stunted and sickly despite the multitude of servants who toiled beneath them every day. Faint birdsong drifted from the greenery like mist; the mournful cries of a legion of sparrows. The birds were imported monthly from the north at the Shōgun’s request, their wings kept clipped so they couldn’t flee the reek.
The sky hung heavy with a pall of fumes, sealing in the day’s already oppressive heat. As the Ninth Shōgun of the Kazumitsu Dynasty stalked to the balcony and looked out over his capital, a sky-ship rose from Kigen harbor and started its long trek north, trailing a suffocating plume of blue-black exhaust.
“The cloudwalkers say otherwise,” he declared.
Hideo sighed inwardly, placed his calligraphy brush aside with care. Smoke curled up from his pipe to the ceiling; a vast dome of obsidian and pearl reminiscent of the once-clear night sky. The silken sokutai robe he wore was abominably heavy, layer upon layer of gold and scarlet, and he cursed again at having to wear the confounded thing in this heat. The old man’s knees creaked as he rose. He inhaled another lungful of lotus and stared at his Lord’s back.
Yoritomo had changed much in the seven years since his father, Shōgun Kaneda, had passed on to his heavenly reward. Now in his twentieth summer, his shoulders were broad, jaw chiseled, long black hair tied up in the style of manhood. As was custom among all the great bloodlines of Shima, he had been adorned with beautiful tattoos on his thirteenth birthday: the fierce tiger prowling down his right arm venerating the guardian spirit of his clan, and the imperial sun over a field of blood lotus flowers down his left declaring him Shōgun of the Four Thrones of the Shima Empire. As the major-domo watched, the tiger tattoo blinked, flexing claws as sharp as katana across his master’s skin. The totem seemed to stare right at him.
Hideo squinted at the pipe in his hand, deciding he’d smoked enough for one morning.
“These cloudwalkers were men of the Kitsune clan, hai?” He exhaled a plume of narcotic midnight blue. “The wise man never trusts the fox, great Lord.”
“You have heard the rumor, then.”
“Nothing escapes my spies, great Lord. Our web is spun across the entire Shōgunate.” The old man moved his arm in a broad arc. “Fox, Dragon, Phoenix or Tiger, there is no clan and no secret that—”
“You did not think to report it to me?”
Hideo’s arm fell to his side, the faintest shadow of a frown creasing his brow. “Forgive me, my Lord. I had no desire to trouble you with the superstitious babbling of peasant folk. If I roused you every time the taverns or brothels crawled with some fancy about flying tigers or giant sea serpents or other yōkai—”
“Tell me what you know.”
A long silence fell, punctuated by the calls of choking sparrows. Hideo heard the soft footfalls of a servant roaming distant hallways, ringing ten notes upon an iron bell and announcing in a clear, high voice that the Hour of the Crane had begun.
“A fantasy, great Lord.” Hideo finally shrugged, “A crew of cloudwalkers arrived in port three days ago, saying that monsoon winds drove their sky-ship off course beyond the cursed Iishi Mountains. While praying that their inflatable would not be burned to a cinder by the Thunder God Raijin, several of the men claimed to have seen the silhouette of an arashitora among the clouds.”
“An arashitora,” Yoritomo repeated. “A thunder tiger, Hideo. Just imagine it.”
The minister shook his head.
“Sailors are fond of their tall tales, my Lord. Those who sail the skies most of all. Any man who spends every minute of his day breathing lotus exhaust sooner or later finds himself possessed of an addled mind. I heard of one crew who swore they saw the blessed Maker God Izanagi walking among the clouds. Another group claim to have found the entrance to the Yomi underworld, and the boulder great Lord Izanagi used to seal it closed. Are we to believe their demented fictions also?”
“This is no fiction, Hideo-san.”
“My Lord, what—”
“I have dreamed it.” Yoritomo turned to face Hideo, his eyes alight. “I have seen myself riding among the thunderclaps astride a great arashitora, leading my armies to war overseas against the round-eye gaijin hordes. Like the Stormdancers of legend. A vision sent from mighty Hachiman, the God of War himself.”
Hideo covered his mouth and gave a small cough.
“Great Lord, equal of heaven—”
“. . . Shōgun, there has not been a confirmed sighting of a thunder tiger since the days of your great-grandfather. The lotus fumes that claimed the sea dragons have claimed them also. The great yōkai beasts are gone forever, back to the spirit realms that once bore them.” Hideo stroked his beard. “Or to the realms of the dead.”
The Shōgun turned from the window and folded his arms. The tiger tattoo paced around his bicep, crystalline eyes glittering, pausing to roar silently at the now sweating minister. Hideo fidgeted with his pipe.
“The beast will be captured, Hideo-san,” the Shōgun glared. “You will visit my hunt master and send him forth with this decree: he will bring me back this thunder tiger, alive, or I will send him and his men to dine with dread Lady Izanami, Mother of Death, and the thousand and one oni demons birthed from her black womb.”
“But Lord, your navy… all of your ships are either engaged in the glorious war or have been allocated to the lotus farms. The Guild will—”
“Will what? Deny their Shōgun? Hideo-san, the only will you should be concerned with at this moment is my own.”
The silence gleamed like an executioner’s blade.
“. . . Hai, great Lord. It shall be so.”
“Good,” Yoritomo nodded, turned back to the window. “I will feast before breakfast. Send in three geisha.”
Hideo bowed as low as his old back would allow, the tip of his thin beard sweeping the polished boards. Retreating a respectful distance from his Shōgun, he turned and hurried away, closing the elegantly decorated rice-paper doors behind him. His sandals beat a rapid pace along the nightingale floor, boards chirping brightly beneath him as he scurried through the sleeping quarters. The thin walls were adorned with long paper amulets the color of blood, scribed with protective mantra in broad, black strokes. Spring-driven ceiling fans were affixed to the exposed beams overhead, fighting a futile battle against the scorching heat. At each doorway loomed a granite statue of the Tora clan’s totem; great and proud Tiger, fiercest of all the kami spirits, his claws raised and fangs bared.
Next to each statue stood two members of the Shōgun’s personal guard, the Kazumitsu Elite. The samurai were clad in golden jin-haori tabards that reached almost to the floor, their armored hands clasping the hilts of chainsaw katana. The guards watched Hideo depart, as motionless and silent as the statues they stood vigil beside.
Hideo mopped his brow with the long sleeves of his robe as he shuffled out of the royal wing, his trail marked by the blue-black smoke still drifting from his bone pipe. He wheezed, his walking stick tapping a crisp beat across the boards. His stomach was busy turning somersaults.
“So now he’s receiving visions from the gods,” he muttered. “Heavens preserve us.”
CHAPTER THREE: Red Saké
Masaru squinted through the pall of greasy smoke at the cards in front of him. The dealer watched him through half-closed lids, a blue-black wreath coiled in the air around his head. Masaru lifted his pipe and inhaled another lungful of lotus.
“Don’t let the dragon steer the ship, my friend,” whispered Akihito. It was the traditional warning for a lotus smoker about to make a very bad decision.
Masaru exhaled, tendrils of smoke wafting up through his graying mustache, past bloodshot eyes. He took a sip of red saké and turned to his friend, eyebrow cocked.
Akihito was a mountain carved out of solid teak, harder than a seven-pipe hangover. His hair was drawn back in diagonal cornrows across his scalp, blond streaks bleached through the black. Four jagged scars ran along his chest, cutting across the beautiful phoenix tattoo on his right arm. The big man was handsome in a rugged, weather-beaten kind of way, dark, clear eyes regarding his friend with concern.
“You worry too much,” Masaru smiled.
Six men sat in a semi-circle around the low table of the gambling house, their cushions torn from some abandoned motor-rickshaw. The walls were rice-paper, painted with figures of exotic women and even more exotic animals: fat panda, fierce leopards and other extinct beasts. Low light flickered in the overhead globes. A sound box sat above the bar; crafted out of dull, gray tin, its speaker cans connected to the main unit with frayed spools of copper wiring. Guild-approved music spilled from its innards; the thin wavering notes of shakuhachi flutes, accompanied by the clicking beat of wooden percussion. The growl of a struggling generator could be heard somewhere downstairs. Fat, black lotusflies swarmed among the rafters.
Each man had stripped to his waist in the sweltering heat, displaying a myriad of irezumi— tattoos—in all colors of the rainbow. A few of the players were Tiger clansmen, sporting ink from the hands of minor artisans that marked them as men of moderate means. Two others at the table had no kami spirits marked on their flesh at all, just simple patterns of koi fish, geisha girls and wildflowers that singled them out as lowborn. Known as Burakumin, these clanless types lurked at the bottom rung of Shima’s caste system, with little hope of ascending. Unable to afford elaborate ink-work, a straight razor and a smudged handful of cuttlefish ink was the closest any of them had come to a real tattoo parlor.
The intricate imperial suns radiating across Akihito and Masaru’s left upper arms had been noted by everybody in the room, and not for the fact that the irezumi marked the pair as the Shōgun’s men. There was no shortage of desperate folk in the streets of Downside, some perhaps even desperate enough to risk Yoritomo-no-miya’s wrath, and the simple fact was that the more elaborate a man’s ink, the fatter his purse was likely to be.
Hushed conversations could be heard from the thugs and lowlifes skulking at other tables. Rumors of last week’s refinery fire, news of the war against the round-eyes overseas and whispers about the latest attack of the Kagé rebels on the northern lotus fields all drifted in the air with the smoke.
Masaru cracked his neck and touched the exquisite nine-tailed fox design sleeving his right arm, whispering a prayer to Kitsune. Fox was not as fierce as Tiger, brave as Dragon, nor as visionary as Phoenix. His people were not great warriors or explorers, nor lauded artisans; among the clan kami spirits, he was the easiest to discount. But Fox was cunning and quick, silent as shadows, and in long-forgotten days when the kami still walked Shima with earthly feet, Fox had imbued his people with his most precious gift. The gift of a desperate, uncanny luck.
Masaru rolled a kouka coin between stained fingers; a two-inch rectangular braid of dull gray iron stamped with the seal of the imperial mint. The game was oicho-kabu, a pastime older than the Empire itself. It was Masaru’s turn as first player; he would determine how many cards were dealt to each of the four fields in front of them. He pointed at the second field on the table, asking for another card, and left the others alone. The assembled gamblers glanced at each other and muttered, each bidding his stake a reluctant goodbye.
The dealer was a blubbery slug of a man, his fat, shaved head gleaming in the dirty light. The serpentine design spiraling down his right arm declared him a member of Ryu, the Dragon zaibatsu; once a clan of seafarers and raiders in the dark, uncivilized days before the unification of the Empire and the rise of the Lotus Guild.
Irezumi across his left arm heralded his allegiance to the Sasori-kai; a gang that ran the illicit card dens across the toxic portside slums of Kigen city. To find a blooded clansman among the yakuza gangs was a rarity, but from the quality of the dealer’s ink, the syndicate of cutthroats, pimps and extortionists was doing very well for itself.
The man-slug placed Masaru’s declared card on the unfinished wood, and taking the fourth card from the deck, he added it to his own hand. A gap-toothed grin spread behind his braided mustache, and he turned over a maple and chrysanthemum. The gamblers scowled and sipped their drinks. One gave Masaru an unappreciative shove.
Masaru held up a hand, tapped his cards with his forefinger.
“What’s the point?” moaned Akihito. “He has nine, dealer wins ties.”
“Fox looks after his own.” Masaru brushed a lotusfly away. “Turn them.”
The dealer shrugged and turned the first field: pine and silver grass for a total of nine. The second field revealed three cherry blossoms, also for nine. The gamblers perked up through the lotus haze; if the third field also flipped a nine, every man would receive triple his bet.
The field already held five points. Akihito prayed aloud, promising to perform several implausibly acrobatic feats on the Lady Luck’s nether regions if she delivered. The dealer turned the final card. Everyone in the room caught their breath. It was a card sent from Uzume herself. A wisteria bloom. A blessed, miraculous four.
The gamblers erupted in a deafening cheer.
“You magnificent bastard!” Akihito clasped Masaru’s face with a pair of meaty hands, planting a kiss squarely on his lips. Masaru grinned and pushed his friend away, holding up his hands for mercy as the other players slapped him repeatedly across his back. He hoisted his saké cup and roared.
“To Kitsune! Fox looks after his own!”
A broad hand slapped the cup away, and it smashed into glittering fragments against the opposite wall. The dealer rose, flushed with anger, hand on the studded wooden club at his belt. Masaru’s new friends began studying the bottoms of their glasses and the fixtures in the ceiling. The serving girl gathered up the tip bowl without a sound and sank behind the bar.
“Damned Kitsune,” spat the dealer. “Cheaters, one and all.”
Masaru’s eyes widened and he swayed to his feet, flipping the table over and sending the cards and coins flying. His skin had the pale gray hue of all lotus addicts, but his body was lean and hard, muscles coiled tightly across long, sharp lines. He wrapped his fist around the polished nunchaku in his belt and glared with red, weeping eyes.
“Typical Ryu,” he growled. “Why do you Dragons always squeal like corpse-rats when you start to lose?”
“Bastard Foxes . . .”
“You cut the godsdamned deck. Another insult to clan Kitsune, and I’ll do the same to my face.”
The dealer raised an eyebrow.
“. . . I mean your face.” Masaru blinked, stumbling slightly.
“You can barely stand, old man,” the thug sneered, glancing down at the nunchaku. “You really think you can swing a pair of those?”
Masaru paused for a moment, eyes roaming the dirty ceiling.
“Good point,” he nodded, and introduced his fist to the dealer’s nose.
Yukiko walked up to the entrance of the gambling den, took a determined expression from the rack and slapped it on her face. She paused to frown up at the noonday sun, its sickly red glare reflected on her goggles. A sky-ship sputtered through the perpetual haze of lotus exhaust fumes overhead, dull light glinting off its filthy, smoke-stained hull.
She wore an outfit of sturdy gray cloth, unadorned save for a small fox embroidered on the breast, cut simply for the sake of utility. An uwagi tunic covered her from neck to mid-thigh, open at the throat, long, loose sleeves with folded cuffs rippling in the feeble breeze. An obi sash of black silk was wrapped tight around her waist, six inches wide, tied in a simple bow at the small of her back. A billowing pair of hakama trousers trailed down to her feet, which were covered by a pair of split-toed tabi socks. Long hair flowed around her shoulders, midnight black against pale, smooth skin. A gray kerchief was tied over her mouth, polarized glass lenses trimmed with thin brass and black rubber covering her eyes.
The cobbles around her were awash with people, a tumbling din of voices and the occasional growl of a motor-rickshaw swelling amidst a sea of sweating flesh and colored silk. A chattering flock of neo-chōnin merchants and their stern, silent bodyguards were gathered nearby, haggling with a junk dealer about the price of scrap iron. Gloved hands pawed through ledgers and fingered purses full of coins; Upside men skimming the surface of Downside streets. The entire group wore face-length breathing apparatus to protect themselves from the burning glare of the sun and the exhaust fumes hanging over the city like a shroud. The masks were sculpted of smooth brass, corrugated rubber and twisting filter pipes, the round glass windows covering their eyes filmed in a fine layer of soot and lotus ash. Like Yukiko, most of the grubby crowd around them made do with kerchiefs tied over their faces, goggles crafted from rat leather and cheap, polarized lenses, or perhaps an umbrella of colored rice paper.
Yukiko heard glassware smashing, loud cursing. A man crashed through the doorway in a rain of splinters, nearly knocking her over. He landed face first in the dust and started bleeding the road red, broken fingers twitching. The crowd ignored him, most skirting around without a glance. The gaggle of neo-chōnin merchants stepped over him on their way to whatever it was they considered important.
“Not again,” she sighed, and stepped inside.
She screwed up her nose at the reek of lotus and sweat and red saké. Pulling her goggles and kerchief down around her throat, she squinted into the gloom. She recognized the shape of a giant, sweat-slicked Akihito. Two yakuza were in headlocks under his arms. His headbutt smeared a third gangster’s nose all over his cheeks. Masaru was being held in an armlock by a fat, bloody-nosed bald man. A rat-faced fellow was punching him repeatedly in the stomach to the brittle tune of a shakuhachi flute. Masaru’s salt-and-pepper hair had come loose from his topknot, splayed across his face in dark tendrils wet with blood. As she watched, he craned his head around and sank his teeth into his captor’s forearm.
The bald man howled, released his grip, and Masaru kicked the rat-faced man square between his legs. The fellow let out a high-pitched squeal and sank to his knees. Masaru dropped a hook across the bald man’s jaw, sending him backward into the bar to land on a pile of broken beach glass. He was picking up a table to clobber the rat-man when Yukiko’s voice rang out over the chaos.
“A little early in the morning, isn’t it, father?”
Masaru paused, squinting bleary-eyed in her direction. He brightened when he recognized her, and took one unsteady step forward, a grin breaking out on his face.
“Daughter! Just in—”
A saké bottle sailed into the back of his head and he crashed across the upturned gaming tables, out cold. The bald man picked up his war club from the wreckage and stalked toward Masaru, wiping his bleeding nose on the back of one fat, greasy paw.
Yukiko stepped forward and held up her hand.
“Sama, please. Enough for one day, hai?”
“Not nearly,” he growled. “Get out of my way, girl.”
Yukiko’s hand drifted to the tantō hidden at the small of her back, fingers slipping around the knife’s lacquered hilt. With her other hand, she pulled up the loose gray cotton of her uwagi’s left sleeve. Even in the guttering tungsten light, the elaborate imperial sun inked across her bicep was plainly visible. Her long, shady eyes glanced down to the identical tattoo on her father’s arm, then back up to the face of the advancing yakuza.
“Please, sama,” she repeated, the barest flicker of warning in her voice, “if this insignificant servant of Yoritomo-no-miya, Ninth Shōgun of the Kazumitsu Dynasty, has caused your house offense, we humbly beg forgiveness.”
The fat man paused, breathing heavily, drool and blood dripping down through his goatee to spatter on the floorboards. He surveyed the wreckage of the room: the unconscious bodies, broken furniture and braided iron kouka coins scattered across the floor. The serving girl peeked over the bar, squeaked and dropped back into hiding.
The fat man pouted, brow creased in thought.
“We keep his winnings,” he finally grunted, motioning to her father with the business end of his tetsubo. “Call it even.”
“That is more than fair.” Yukiko gave a small bow, releasing her grip on the knife. “Amaterasu bless your kindness, sama.”
She turned to Akihito, paused mid-brawl, his arms still locked around the necks of the two smaller, rapidly suffocating men.
“Akihito, give me a hand please?”
The giant raised an eyebrow, looked back and forth between the purple faces stuffed into his armpits. Shrugging, he clobbered the men’s heads together and tossed them over the bar. The crash of shattering glass and the sound box’s tune were drowned out by the serving girl’s shriek.
Akihito stooped down and hefted Masaru over one shoulder, flashing Yukiko a broad grin. She frowned in return.
“I asked you to watch him.”
Though he towered a good foot and a half over the girl, the big man looked slightly abashed. “He’s still in one piece, isn’t he?”
She scowled and rolled her eyes. “Barely.”
“So where to, little fox?”
“The harbor.” She stalked over the broken furniture and out the door.
Akihito frowned and stumbled after her. Emerging into the blast-furnace heat, he tugged his goggles up over his eyes with his spare hand. People swarmed about them in the street, lotusflies swarmed about the people, all buzzing to and fro beneath the glare of that burning scarlet sun.
The big man pulled a gray kerchief up over his mouth, a conical straw hat onto his head.
“What the hells are we going to the harbor for?”
In answer, Yukiko produced a scroll from the inner breast pocket of her uwagi and slapped it into the big man’s palm. Akihito shifted Masaru’s bulk across his shoulders. The rice-paper made a sound like brittle bird wings as he unfurled it, scowling over the symbols painted on the page. The kanji were written in a thin, spidery hand, difficult to read through the film of grime and ash covering his goggles. It took a few seconds for the color to start draining from the big man’s face.
“This is an imperial seal,” he said.
“So it is.”
Akihito was pale as old bones by the time he finished reading the orders.
He drew a deep breath, stared at Yukiko for a long, silent moment, then screwed the scroll up in his fist. Blotches of color bloomed at his cheeks.
“The Shōgun is sending us after an arashitora? A godsdamned thunder tiger?”
A trio of passing sararīmen shot them curious glances as the big man’s temper flared. Yukiko took the crumpled scroll from his hand, rolled it up as best she could and tucked it back inside her breast pocket. Akihito scowled around the street, lowered his voice to a furious whisper.
“Why is he doing this? Is he angry with us?”
“He wants a thunder tiger, Akihito.”
“Well, I want a woman who can touch her ears with her ankles, cook a decent meal and keep her opinions to herself. But they don’t fucking exist either!”
Masaru groaned as Akihito shifted him to his other shoulder.
“Do you feel better now?” Yukiko folded her arms. “Got it all out of your system?”
“We can’t hunt what doesn’t exist, Yukiko.”
“You don’t think I know that?”
“And what do you think is going to happen if we fail Yoritomo-no-miya?” The big man punctuated his questions with his free hand. “What do you think will be waiting for us when we come back empty-handed? Orders for Masaru to commit seppuku, for starters. You want to watch as your father is forced to disembowel himself? Who knows what they’ll do to the rest of us . . .”
“Maybe you could tell the Shōgun how you feel. I’m sure he’d understand.”
Akihito drew breath to retort, blinked and swallowed his words. He gritted his teeth and ran one hand across the back of his neck as he glanced about. The streets around them overflowed with people; layers of the social strata heaped one on another, brick upon cracking brick. Neo-chōnin merchants with fat bellies and fatter purses; sararīman wageslaves with their modest lives and honest coin; sweating farmers with half-empty wagons; gomimen with their salvage carts and recycled wares; traveling peddlers with their lives and livelihoods stacked on their backs; beggars in the gutters, fighting with the rats for the tablescraps the rest had left behind. Countless figures jostling in the oily haze, none of them paying anyone else the slightest heed.
Yukiko’s expression softened, and she reached up to lay a gentle hand on the big man’s arm.
“Every word you’re saying is true. But what choice do we have?” She pulled her goggles on and shrugged. “Try to deliver the impossible, or defy the Shōgun and just die right here and now. Which would you prefer?”
Akihito exhaled, shoulders slumping like a flower wilting in the scorching heat.
“Come on, let’s go.” Yukiko turned and began walking toward the docks.
Akihito remained motionless as the girl slipped away into the throng. Screwing his eyes shut and juggling his unconscious friend, the giant pinched himself on the arm hard enough to leave a bruise. He waited a long moment, then opened one eye, glancing around the street. Against all hope, the world remained exactly as he’d left it.
“Izanagi’s balls,” he muttered, and hurried after the girl.
Copyright © 2012 by Jay Kristoff
Excerpted from Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff Copyright © 2012 by Jay Kristoff. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
A letter from the author:
That was the idea that started it all, that’s filled my life for the last two years and sees me sitting here now, writing this letter to you.
Stormdancer’s setting is a nation teetering on the edge of ruin. Shima is an imperium built on the backs of fantastical technologies—sky–ships and motor–rickshaw and thunder–rail, defended by noble Iron Samurai in lumbering suits of smoke–stained power armor. But the engines that drive the empire are ever–thirsty, and Shima is being slowly consumed by the very technologies that once made it powerful. When I first pictured the islands in my head, I imagined a high–speed collision between the epic settings of feudal Japan and the fictions of Verne, Moore and Gibson, smudged with a handful of soot and burned motor oil.
But that’s not what the book is about.
At its heart, Stormdancer is a book about an unlikely friendship between two even more unlikely characters—a girl with the ability to speak telepathically to animals in a country where animal life is virtually extinct, and the last griffin left alive in the entire country. I wanted to write an epic adventure, full of battles and betrayals and chainsaw katana fights, with a kick–ass heroine who didn’t need to choose a boy by which to define herself. I wanted to have readers crying and laughing and left at the end wanting to know what happens next. But more than that, I wanted to write a book with heart; a book about a friendship that bloomed despite all obstacles. A bond that would grow to become a thing of legend in this nation on the edge of ruin—a friendship that challenged the might of an empire.
The idea for Stormdancer came to me in a dream, and my life has felt a little like a dream since I first found out it was getting published. So, for giving something of yourself to this absurd little dream of mine, you have my heartfelt thanks. Sincerely. Love it. Hate it. For agreeing to spend some of your time in this tiny world I’ve made, thank you.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
There have been only a few times that I have been rendered speechless in my life with not even a single coherent thought passing through my head. This is one of those moments. When I finished the last page of the book I was numb – numb from realization that I did not have any more to read of this wonderful, this magnificent piece of book called Stormdancer. I want more. I knew this book would have been amazing… look at the cover, look at the blurb, look at the fact that it is a Japanese Steampunk featuring Thunder Tigers and Chainsaw Katanas – but the enormity of its amazingness blew me away. It was like reading a manga in text – the world was that vivid, the book was that action packed, the mythology was that enthralling, the characters that compelling – I can find no better praise to give a fantasy novel. I am in awe. Literally. This book made me feel so many emotions at once I was like a ferris wheel rotating while running in full speed over a rollercoaster. I laughing hard at the dialogues one moment (Yes, Jay you are one witty man) and then slack-jawed the next. I cried while reading this book… (view spoiler) I loved the narrative with alternating viewpoints. I loved the way the action sequences were described – smoothly and kickass-ly. There were no vague gestures and no underscoring the attacks – they were there in all the gory and not-so-gory details. But the best part of Jay’s writing was the show and tell method – the information about the world, the beasts, the myths, the characters – they were written flawlessly that I did not feel either information overload or the lack of proper explanations. I was really glad that the romance was downplayed (really downplayed) and the heroine had her priorities straight. Saving the world with her great Thunder Tiger first; fantasies of the samurai with the blue-green eyes later. Hands down, Yukiko was an amazing protagonist – beautiful, sarcastic, kickass, brave, kickass, smart, kickass and for extra emphasis kickass again. I can count in my single hand the YA protagonists who didn’t make me feel like my brain cells were dying just by the realization that I was also a teenage girl like them. I didn’t even roll my eyes at Yukiko’s actions even once, I didn’t even want to. The girl got my respect. As did Buuru. Buuru was the soul of this book. I was thinking HOLY FRICKIN’ HELL I WANT A PET GRIFFIN! He was that awesome. The way he slowly warmed up to Yukiko and got ready to fight the battles together was amazing! Heck, everything about Stormdancer was amazing!! The Oni were creepy. The Lotusmen were creepier. Kin was adorable. Hiro was…there. Amaterasu, Izanami, Izanagi, Susano-¿, Tsukiyomi reminded me of Itachi Uchiha (who, in my, opinion is the greatest manga character of all time). The mythical world was fresh and interesting. The legends of the past Stormdancers and the stories of the long ago Gods were captivating. I would love to elaborate more about every frigging part of the book but honestly, I am running out of positive adjectives. I’m still stuck in the fact that it is over... and I don’t have the sequel yet! Stormdancer is not just a book, it is THE book. THE book that breaks all the clichés in YA and gives us a fresh story to read. THE book with the storyline and fantasy that has not been recycled, reused, raped and printed by countless books before it. THE book with a heroine who knows what she’s doing, why she’s doing it and her reasons actually makes sense. THE book with a best friend who is not only a friggin’ Thunder Tiger but also witty, sarcastic and loyal. THE book with Chainsaw Katanas. Seriously? What other reasons you need to read this book? 5 Stars! No doubt about it!!There have been only a few times that I have been rendered speechless in my life with not even a single coherent thought passing through my head. This is one of those moments. When I finished the last page of the book I was numb – numb from realization that I did not have any more to read of this wonderful, this magnificent piece of book called Stormdancer. I want more. I knew this book would have been amazing… look at the cover, look at the blurb, look at the fact that it is a Japanese Steampunk featuring Thunder Tigers and Chainsaw Katanas – but the enormity of its amazingness blew me away. It was like reading a manga in text – the world was that vivid, the book was that action packed, the mythology was that enthralling, the characters that compelling – I can find no better praise to give a fantasy novel. I am in awe. Literally. This book made me feel so many emotions at once I was like a ferris wheel rotating while running in full speed over a rollercoaster. I laughing hard at the dialogues one moment (Yes, Jay you are one witty man) and then slack-jawed the next. I cried while reading this book… I loved the narrative with alternating viewpoints. I loved the way the action sequences were described – smoothly and kickass-ly. There were no vague gestures and no underscoring the attacks – they were there in all the gory and not-so-gory details. But the best part of Jay’s writing was the show and tell method – the information about the world, the beasts, the myths, the characters – they were written flawlessly that I did not feel either information overload or the lack of proper explanations. I was really glad that the romance was downplayed (really downplayed) and the heroine had her priorities straight. Saving the world with her great Thunder Tiger first; fantasies of the samurai with the blue-green eyes later. Hands down, Yukiko was an amazing protagonist – beautiful, sarcastic, kickass, brave, kickass, smart, kickass and for extra emphasis kickass again. I can count in my single hand the YA protagonists who didn’t make me feel like my brain cells were dying just by the realization that I was also a teenage girl like them. I didn’t even roll my eyes at Yukiko’s actions even once, I didn’t even want to. The girl got my respect. As did Buuru. Buuru was the soul of this book. I was thinking HOLY FRICKIN’ HELL I WANT A PET GRIFFIN! He was that awesome. The way he slowly warmed up to Yukiko and got ready to fight the battles together was amazing! Heck, everything about Stormdancer was amazing!! The Oni were creepy. The Lotusmen were creepier. Kin was adorable. Hiro was…there. Amaterasu, Izanami, Izanagi, Susano-¿, Tsukiyomi reminded me of Itachi Uchiha (who, in my, opinion is the greatest manga character of all time). The mythical world was fresh and interesting. The legends of the past Stormdancers and the stories of the long ago Gods were captivating. I would love to elaborate more about every frigging part of the book but honestly, I am running out of positive adjectives. I’m still stuck in the fact that it is over... and I don’t have the sequel yet! Stormdancer is not just a book, it is THE book. THE book that breaks all the clichés in YA and gives us a fresh story to read. THE book with the storyline and fantasy that has not been recycled, reused, raped and printed by countless books before it. THE book with a heroine who knows what she’s doing, why she’s doing it and her reasons actually makes sense. THE book with a best friend who is not only a friggin’ Thunder Tiger but also witty, sarcastic and loyal. THE book with Chainsaw Katanas. Seriously? What other reasons you need to read this book? 5 Stars! No doubt about it!!
Shima is a perfect steampunk dynasty. It was so vividly painted that it was more like watching a movie that reading a book. The words left nothing lacking in it’s tapestry. Yukiko is a beautiful girl. Not in physical beauty because the labor of the world has hidden that away, but in ideal. She cares for what others would abandon or turn a blind eye and that is one of her greatest strengths. She’s slightly naïve in the beginning; she understands yet doesn’t really understand the matters at play that move her world. Her growth is one of the best ever written. Buruu is special. He completes Yukiko. His reason, and sometimes lack thereof tempers her weaknesses and at times strengthens her as well. In the beginning Buruu didn’t need her and acted that way, but with all things, there’s a gradual understanding that grows into a beautiful love. The story is quick paced. There’s never a page where something isn’t happening that isn’t important to the story. Every word has meaning and it’s written so well, that the plot doesn’t lead the reader by the nose. It unfolds rather beautifully and smoothly. Overall, this book was superb. This was a perfect blend of history, mythology and steampunk ever experienced. There is certainly nothing like this and there’s no justifiable way to describe the perfection that is this unique story. A recommend read for all fantasy, YA, Steampunk, Japanese, and Mythology readers. In any or no combination. ^_^
I was really excited to read this and hoped it would live up to the hype - and IT.DID! Stormdancer begins with a gorgeous cover and continues with fantastic characters who take you on a spellbinding journey of love, sacrifice and hope that left me in tears. (Ugly-cry sobbing is more like it.) This story sucked me in right away and Jay Kristoff is a master worldbuilder. He transports the reader right into a Japan on the brink of war by painting such vivid pictures through sights, sounds and smells. (I kept catching myself covering my face, as if I could actually smell the stench.) The relationship between Yukiko and Buruu is honest and heart-aching in it's tenderness and left me wishing for a Buruu of my own. (Are you listening Santa?) Yukiko is definitely out numbered by men and Kin and Hiro are just two who find themselves rotating in her orbit. One is quiet and determined while the other is a fierce warrior. Both are loyal in their dedication and it's that loyalty that might just be their undoing. Yukiko does every girl proud with her strength, beauty and stubbornness. She doesn't do anything half way, whether it's fighting for what she believes in or loving those around her. She makes a few mistakes and learns some tough lessons about love and friendship but it's not until she suffers a gut wrenching betrayal that she learns the true meaning of sacrifice. The Lotus Wars has only just begun and I can't wait to see what happens next!
Yukiko is a 16 year old girl, belonging to the Kitsune clan. Her father is the Hunt Master, and they are off on a journey to capture a thunder tiger - a beast of legend, extinct long ago. Extinct, however, it seems not. They capture the tiger before crashing their airship. Now Yukiko is separated by her father and stuck with the thunder tiger, a bond between them forming. Stormdancer is a novel filled with vivid detail and dazzling descriptions. This novel took me longer than I would usually would to read. I was overwhelmed by the amount of detailed description, and took my time reading slowly and carefully, savouring every word. I constantly stopped and imagined Yukiko's world, and when I came across a word I didn't know or something I couldn't imagine, I would look it up before I continued. Yukiko was a strong character, a brave girl admist all the evil. Buruu, the thunder tiger, was my favourite of the characters, smart and witty. There are many other characters in this novel, their personalities suitably fitting each of them. The plot-line of this story really drew me in. I felt like I was right beside the characters all the time. Stormdancer has a little bit of everything - fantasy, romance, action, betrayal, murder and so much more. I am glad there is going to be more than one book, because I am definitely wanting more of this world to come alive.
A book like this only comes along once in a very long while. Incredibly rich worldbuilding, a cast of characters that will stay with you long after you're finished and action on an epic scale come together to create a truly unique book I'll never forget. If you prefer your stories quick and simple, this isn't the book for you. Jay Kristoff weaves a world with layer upon layer of detail, drawing on Japanese history, myth and legend, steampunk elements, political intrigue and a healthy dose of fantasy. The result is spectacular. Yukiko is a gutsy, realistic teenaged protagonist, surrounded by a cast of characters who each deserve their own book. I'm looking forward to seeing some in the sequel, and starting a campaign now for some prequel novellas featuring the adventures of Masaru and co. before the story proper opens. Buruu, the thunder tiger, has some of the best lines of the book, and is a triumph all of his own. The plot is a rich combination of action and politics, and in a book where nobody's safe (warning: I cried more than once), the story picks you up and relentlessly carries you onward. The word 'epic' is overused these days, but Stormdancer is epic in every sense of the word.
It only took two pages before I knew that I would be highly enjoying this book. THE WORLD Stormdancer is described as a "Japanese inspired steampunk fantasy", so I was already mentally preparing myself for the world of Stormdancer. It took me a bit before I fully took it all in, but it was incredible how vivid the setting was. There are people dying along with their land and the growth of the Lotus that is poisoning everyone. There are also creatures such as griffins hiding out in the land. GRIFFINS, PEOPLE. GRIFFINS. THE CHARACTERS Let's start with the super awesome Yukiko. She is skilled in fighting, can communicate with animals, and goes on hunting trips for the Shogun. Yukiko starts off as an angsty 16 year old and transforms into this fierce heroine. Buruu, the griffin, is my favorite character along with Yukiko. He develops from an almost barbaric animal with his thirst for killing into a complex, human-like creature. Buruu slowly builds a sense of sarcasm, and a great personality. OVERALL There were moments when the story was a bit slow, especially when things were being introduced and explained, but the story held my attention the whole time. Stormdancer was constantly entertaining with the writing, characters, and setting. I will most definitely be reading more of mister Kristoff's work.
I hope the author can maintain the exotic originality of the settings and characters. Minor quibble with japanese language use (a *Samisen* is held and played very much like a guitar, plus it only has 3 strings) the instrument that the author describes being played in the royal "living quarters" is most likely a *Koto* a long, thirteen string floor harp. Plus as already mentioned incorrect usage of the honorific "Sama".
4.5 stars rounded up to 5.Wow. It's been awhile since I've read anything like this. This book was amazing. Great characters, a complex world, and beautiful writing.Cover:Look at that cover! Most people like the US cover, but I prefer the UK version more. Both are beautiful though. The US cover matches the story more than the UK cover. I also love that the author gave so much credit to his cover artist.World:The setting for this book is a mix of steampunk and dystopian which I think is a great combination. I love steampunk and it was included really well into the story without being forced. The dystopian setting was a realistic one. Some dystopian books are never explained well and seem to be dystopian just because it's what's popular now. The world is a very complex one and incorporates a lot of historical Japanese culture. At the beginning it was confusing because everything needed to be explained and for some people this will really slow down the story. What stood out the most to me is that this world that Kristoff has created reflects so closely on our own. I hope this book will cause people to think more carefully about the state of our planet. I love the world that the author has created and I can't wait to read more books in this setting.Characters:I loved the characters. They were not necessarily relatable, but the kind of characters that the readers can understand. They made mistakes and had their weaknesses, but they were also strong and stubborn and willing to sacrifice.Writing:The writing style might be what readers would hate the most. A lot of Japanese words are used and for someone who doesn't understand a word of Japanese this is going to cause a headache. Personally, I loved it. I've taken 3 years of Japanese class and while not fluent, I can understand the basics. Plus the style of writing is the kind that makes you feel something and give you shivers.Plot:The story is slow in the beginning. Not because nothing is happening, but because of all the culture being incorporated and the introductions being made. Once you get into it though the story gets really good. Everything is more complicated than it seems. There are new developments and plot twists added in every chapter.Overall:I feel like some parts of this book weren't explained enough, but everything else was done amazingly well. I'd recommend this for readers who love action and fantasy because there isn't a whole lot of romance going on in here. Everyone should give this book a chance because I think there's something in there for everyone to love.
"When a man's fate is not his own, when he may die at the behest of a man born luckier or wealthier, when he sweats all his life for scraps from another's table, then he is in peril."Daichi's eyes glittered in the half light."But when he accepts it in his heart, when he ceases to struggle against that fundamental injustice, then he is a slave."A world abandoned by the gods of old, where once majestic creatures of lore graced the heavens, but have long since deserted a world choked and dying of pollution. Machines rule the world. A corrupt imperial family is headed by a selfish and cruel emperor. A hidden resistance group is bent upon bringing down the last ruler of a dynasty at any cost. This is the world that Yukiko calls home. Commanded by her emperor, accompanied by her father, Yukiko, must journey into the wilderness to find and capture an extinct creature that has not been sighted for generations. The cost of the mission to Yukiko may be everything she holds dear and close to her heart. Stormdancer takes your typical steampunk setting and transforms it into to an entirely original world filled with the tastes and sounds of feudal Japan. A lush and vibrant world without interesting characters is like a canvas void of colours and details. In that respect, Kristoff was successful in building a world that you want to explore, and characters you can't help but want to cheer for. Overall, a very solid and intriguing introduction to a series that I fully intend on following. Recommend for anyone who is interested in a creative interpretation on a well established genre.
This is a wonderful book suitable for readers of all ages. The characters are unique and memorable. The storyline is excitingly unpredictable, and is sure to motivate you to buy the second in the series.
Yukiko is a member of the Fox clan, one of the four Shogunates of the increasingly industrialized Shima Empire. Those with Chi struggle to survive- both physically and spiritually. The rapid rise of machines, from airboats to gunpowder, has created a polluted environment that birds and beasts flee. Once there were mythical creatures, but now these rumors are dismissed as legends by everyone but one very powerful Shogun of the Tiger Clan. His vision of riding a Stormtiger has become an imperative, much to his major domo's dismay. He's been ordered to find one, and no one even believes in them anymore. Except poor Yukiko, who has every reason to both believe, and to regret having ever left the city for the last wilderness... The first two chapters are richly engaging and set the stage for the epic that reviews promise. A few questions: While spirit creatures are still believed, in fact each house has it's own guardian spirit, this is beginning to be dismissed. How does this parallel religious views in modern day? While the Shima Isles closely resemble Japan, they are not the same- is it culturally acceptable to use a template and then take artistic liberties? Pet peeves- Obsidian and pearl are not the most practical of building materials- obsidian is literally volcanic glass, so you can kind of fill in the blanks there. Also- it would be mother of pearl inlay, rather than individual pearls- unless it's a mosaic on the ceiling of Yoritomo-no-miya's home. Also a granite statue at each door with two guards equals a lot of guards and tigers, given that most houses are laid out in hallways, rather than great rooms. #LetsRead Tatianna Anne Jindra On YouTube BadFantasyRx https://badfantasyrx.blogspot.com/2016/10/lets-read-stormdancer-japanese-steampunk.html
Excellent read. I loved every page. I'll for sure be buying the sequal.
I haven't read a book so ingrained with such a creative culture borrowed from our times until today. This book is Amazing. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND YOU READ IT.
Japanese, Steampunk, mythical creatures. I loved the uniqueness of this book. I will certainly be moving on to book 2. :)
This novel wasn't what I expected. I liked the plot and the main characters but struggled to get into the novel. It was interesting!
so good can,t wait for book 2
Alright, this book promises to be a lot of things (a Japanese steampunk novel laced with fantasy/mythological roots?!!!), and I am happy to report it delivers on all of them. This book is REALLY slow in the beginning, there's going to be a lot of world building for the 1st half of the book. I'm fairly positive most people are with me when I say the author spends a bit too much time on descriptions. HOWEVER, just stick with it and I promise it will deliver a great adventure story. Once I really got into the main plot I was addicted. It's an amazing and inventive story, I mean it's got a little bit of everything in here (adventure, espionage, romance, friendship, betrayal, ect.). It's one of the story's that has you racing to grab the next book in the series. Definitely worth the time!
Well well little one.
AWSOME! Thnx :3. P.s snowfrost you have a stepdad in my den, but dont go in there. Once we are fully mates ill bring him out and announce itto the rest of the clan.