Tag Archives: kick ass

Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff

Every now and then you finish a book, close it, turn it over, look at the front cover for a while, caress the edges a little maybe, and in all likelihood give it a bit of a hug. Just a bit of one. It’s only a book, you know? Hugging a book is weird. So it’s only a bit of a hug. And then you put it down and get on with your day and find another book to read and life goes on.

Well, yeah.

All of that +10 for Stormdancer – except for the “read another book” bit because I haven’t been able to concentrate on anything else because mentally I’m still going “OH GOOD GOD I WANT A BURUU”.

The one on the left is mine and I luff it oh yes I do

Griffins are supposed to be extinct. So when Yukiko and her warrior father Masaru are sent to capture one for the Shogun, they fear that their lives are over. Everyone knows what happens to those who fail him, no matter how hopeless the task.

But the mission proves far less impossible, and far more deadly, than anyone expects – and soon Yukiko finds herself stranded: a young woman alone in her country’s last wilderness, with only a furious, crippled griffin for company. But trapped together in the forest, Yukiko and Buruu soon discover a friendship that neither of them expected.

Meanwhile, the country around them verges on the brink of collapse. A toxic fuel is slowly choking the land; the omnipotent, machine-powered Lotus Guild is publicly burning those they deem Impure; and the Shogun cares about nothing but his own dominion. Yukiko has always been uneasy in the shadow of power, when she learns the awful truth of what the Shogun has done, both to her country and to her own family she’s determined to do something about it.

Returning to the city, Yukiko and Buruu plan to make the Shogun pay for his crimes – but what can one girl and a flightless griffin do against the might of an empire?

If you’re not sure if this book for you, let me give you The Checklist Of Awesome.

  • Alternative feudal Japan. With mecha suits, and yokai, and oni, and other things that make my grounding in Inuyasha and Gundam Wing suddenly so worthwhile
  • Mythical creatures that aren’t dragons, unicorns, vampires, werewolves, mermaids or fairies AND can disembowel you as easily as look at you
  • Dieselpunk/steampunk (author says steampunk but I’d disagree) technology that makes sense in mechanical, ecological, social, historical and narrative contexts
  • A flawed main character – entirely human and sympathetic and who grows and develops and is entirely like a 16-year-old but at the same time has that potential to be more 
  • Bad-ass fight scenes that you (if you’re me) decide to read twice because the writing is exquisite and it should be ridiculous but ISN’T because I think Kristoff has CLEARLY made a deal with a writing devil
  • Speaking of making a deal with a writing devil, even the big chunks of description are so wonderfully done you can’t hate him for it (damn you sir, damn you)
  • OH HELLO FANTASY BOOK THAT HAS A YOUNG GIRL AS THE MAIN CHARACTER AND DOESN’T MAKE ROMANCE THE CENTRAL FOCUS OF THE PLOT AND TREATS SEX WITH THE FUN *AND* RESPECT IT DESERVES OH HELLO WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN ALL MY LIFE CAN I HUG YOU AGAIN OMG THE FEELS YEAH I’M GONNA HUG YOU AGAIN
  • Did I mention that romance isn’t the main focus? Even though it has a bit of a love triangle that it untangles without being incredibly patronising to the readers? YES I KNOW IT’S GREAT and don’t go looking for a clean YA resolution because Toto I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas any more
  • How about the emotional backbone being the relationship between a father and daughter? Or friendships, or families? The healthy ones (Yukiko and her twin), the broken ones (aww Masaru), the dangerous ones (OH HEY SHOGUN), the profound ones (BURUUUU) and so on? It’s all about family and it feels so much better than being all about romance for ONCE
  • This also counts as a dystopia, just FYI, and it wins at dystopias because of p.366 of my edition which was a glorious crowning world-building moment of awesome (and ick)
  • CHAINSAW KATANAS
  • LET ME REITERATE
  • CHAINSAW KATANAS

Okay. It’s awesome, but there are issues. People have pointed out the problems with the terminology before – THERE’S A GLOSSARY AT THE BACK BY THE WAY AND PEOPLE MAY NEED TO KNOW ABOUT IT – and how it’s apparently full of inaccurate Japanese. As a fantasy reader I feel like those issues can be side-stepped because it’s *fantasy* and how knows how the Japanese language may have developed in this alternative reality, but they’re valid concerns regardless, and worth the attention (excellent review there, I highly recommend reading it). I wasn’t sure about some of it during the book but it didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the story – this is an entirely YMMV topic, I reckon, but I want to bring it up because it is, after all, dealing with a real culture.

One of my issues with it concerns the tone it takes with regard to the blood lotus pollution. It’s not THAT it deals with the topic, but HOW. It’s a great thing to be writing fantasy about but those segments – ESPECIALLY when Buruu lectured Yukiko about the pollution of Shima – come off as being really quite patronising and odd. I wanted to compare it to Miyazaki but Miyazaki is subtle and clever about drawing links between films like Nausicaa and Princess Mononoke and the modern world, where this felt like being walloped over the head with relevance and significance and it was just… it was jarring. Kristoff proved he can be elegant and clever in almost every other aspect of this story, but that, the element that should linger the longest in people’s’ minds, was awkward. We weren’t being guided by his writing, we were being lectured to. Buruu is incredibly cool but using him as the author’s mouthpiece tarnished him a little. I’d love to get behind this aspect of the book but I just felt, for all the good he wants to do with this message, it suddenly switched tone from SFF to very young adult and then back, which didn’t work, and jolted me out of the story.

My most pressing concern? Lady Aisha. What was that? She was my favourite character aside from Buruu. Did that seriously happen? That was enough to knock a star off on Goodreads. Huge amounts of this book are ALL ABOUT the male gaze – from descriptions of the characters to Kaori’s face to the SODDING BATHING HOUSE SCENE THAT NEVER GETS PUNISHED oh god that annoys me – and although there are lots of aspects of this book to encourage and praise, this isn’t one of them. Lady Aisha feels like a casualty of that pervasive attitude, and it’s troubling – all the female characters are completely defined by the men around them. All of them. It could be read as an extension of the Evil Empire if you want to be kind, but it isn’t just that; I’m tired of Blokey Fantasy tropes and Stormdancer has lots of them. None of them are dealt with. They’re part of the story. I enjoyed the rest of it so much that this really troubled me, and for all I liked it, reflecting back on it there’s a lot I’m not happy with.

Aside from that I loved it, and read it slowly to savour the writing. I raced through the last third far too fast for my liking. People have criticized the beginning with its stately pace and how detailed the writing and descriptions are – I love all of that, and was sad the book wasn’t twice as long. For all I was deeply unhappy with aspects of it, I loved it so much I’d rank it up there with The Name Of The Wind for sheer enjoyment. I can’t wait for the 13th September to come so I can sell it to everyone. “READ THIS,” I shall tell them. “IT IS FUN AND GORGEOUS AND KICK-ASS. Also the cover is well pretty.”

AND I WANT A BURUU PLUSHIE GODDAMNIT

And the Stormdancer book trailer if you haven’t seen it is worth a gander because it’s hi-larious:

Unless you’re Liam who has no sense of humour.

MISTRY MONDAY! Generation Bad-Ass: A guest blog by Sarwat Chadda + COMPETITION!

Ladies and gentlemen, you are in for a TREAT. Well, TWO treats actually, because Mondays are horrendous and we need all the help we can get to make it through. Well, I am here to save your sanity, oh yes. Firstly, the estimable Sarwat Chadda, author of Ash Mistry and the Savage Fortress (remember how much I loved it?), has provided me with a suitably bad-ass guest post – and SECONDLY you can win a signed copy of the book! I’ll tell you more about that later. You’ve got to read this though, it will fill you with the bad-ass spirit you need to tackle this Monday head on.

You ready to kick some ass? You better be!

Generation Bad-ass by Sarwat Chadda

Have you watched Game of Thrones? Beyond it being really rather awesome it stars Sean Bean. Now, I am a long time Bean fan, but he is something else entirely in GoT. Brooding with a quiet air of extreme menace his aquiline, classically handsome features of his youth have crumbled to a craggy, hard and brutal visage. He has become bad-ass.

History is made by bad-asses. Without the bad-ass gene, Napoleon would have remained a funny little man in a big hat. Genghis a lonely goat herder in Mongolia. Boudicca a quiet little housewife in East Anglia. Bad-ass is the difference between curling up in a ball and sobbing and going out there and burning your enemy’s cities to the ground, having their armies driven before you and having the smoke-swollen night filled with the lamentation of their women.

My first meeting with HarperCollins revolved around the nature of bad-ass. My editor and I were clear we were not going to produce a soft, sensitive hero who deep down, despite the tough bad-boy exterior is just a big softy looking for love. That was sick-bag territory than has been well explored by others. We wanted a guy who was going to wade chest deep in gore, rip out hearts and eat them whole. Raw.

But the question was, is one born bad-ass, or does one become bad-ass. It’s the nature v. Nurture argument. I felt it would be far more interesting in seeing how someone utterly normal, even a bit cowardly could, given the right (or wrong) incentives, can become bad-ass.

Think of it as an experiment on exactly how civilized are we. What would it take to go wild, brutal and barbaric? The first draft was written during last summer’s riots. I think that may have influenced the book.

Take a boy, 13 years old. He’s got a loving, supportive family life (no orphans, too easy). Never been hungry a day in his life. He’s not well off, but comfortable. Not the smartest boy in school, not the dumbest. He’s a bit plump, a bit unhealthy, a bit lazy. I called him Ash.

Then, slowly, strip that all away. Remove family. Take him out of his environment and put him in somewhere less…easy. Give him enemies. Not a couple of kids that just want to nick his mobile, but enemies who will kill him, his friends, his mother, father, sister and anyone who has even looked in his direction to get what they want. Enemies richer, smarter, older and far more ruthless than anyone you’ve ever known. And give them the home advantage.

Brutalize him. Now we all have those stories where the hero-in-the-making has his training sequence (usually a montage) with the wise and kindly mentor. Yawn. Give Ash a teacher who’s quite happy to beat him, starve him, imprison him and do all those truly nasty things absolutely essential in becoming the bad-ass he needs to be.

No breaks. No mornings off. No tea and sympathy. Hunt him, attack him, torture him. You either break him or he becomes bad-ass.

I’ve had a lot of fun writing about Ash. He’s my antidote to the nice-guy heroes that dominate mid-grade action. I loved it that he moaned and sweated and everything was hard for him, because isn’t that really what it’s like? When faced with challenges don’t we often complain that ‘life isn’t fair’ and hope the problems will sort themselves out or someone else will do it for us? Isn’t the first step in becoming any sort of hero, especially a bad-ass one, the realization it’s down to us and no-one else? There’s a lot of heart-ache and doubt, but that’s the heroes I love to read, the ones who despair but push and, sometimes, come through. Success is never for certain and perhaps just making it to the next day is victory enough. But that’s what being bad-ass is all about.

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To win a copy of Ash Mistry and the Savage Fortress all you need to do is either retweet a link to this post or comment below before the 19th of April. Do both and you get entered into the draw for it TWICE! (UK only!)