I got this for my 8th birthday (Thanks, Diana!) and have read it many times since then, saving up my meager pocket money to buy the other volumes. I hI got this for my 8th birthday (Thanks, Diana!) and have read it many times since then, saving up my meager pocket money to buy the other volumes. I had a boost of nostalgia this Sunday and relieved my glee of almost 30 years ago - noticing how much childhood (fictional or real) has changed since then....more
"Yamaguchi Hiroyuki, who rested agura-style in front of a too warm kotatsu, enjoyed a cup of fragrant genmaicha with a plate of fresh kusamochi from a"Yamaguchi Hiroyuki, who rested agura-style in front of a too warm kotatsu, enjoyed a cup of fragrant genmaicha with a plate of fresh kusamochi from a wagashiya at Higashi-Bashi and took a secret sip of shirozake in between, while reading the less shocking parts of the shimbun to his wataire-clad okusan Miyuki, who was supposed to fold the last Hinamatsuri origami, but nervously fingered a fertility omamori from the neighborhood jinja instead. If she did not conceive this very month there was nothing left but harakiri. 'Shou ga nai', she wispered to herself with a soft sigh reminiscent of the maiko she once had been." Huh? No, this paragraph was certainly not extracted from Jay Kristoff's debut novel Stormdancer, but it could be, for I jumbled together a paragraph that made the same exaggerated use of japanese nouns in a slightly clumsy attempt to create a kind of asian atmosphere. I was really peeved by the vocabulary overload, which even had characters answering with "Hai" instead of simply "Yes", but in the end there were all in all more aspects in the story that I enjoyed, adored or felt comfortably familiar with than those I disliked. I will try to point out both and I will explain why I would in fact recommend to pick up the book along the way.
What I liked ... * First of all: The cover. No, not that bland one one by Tor. It reminds me too much of the cover of Takashi Matsuoka's Cloud of Sparrows. I mean the gorgeous red and black one that shows a griffin, lotus-poisoned air, a sexy, young-enough-looking heroine and even a nine-tailed-fox tattoo on her arm. I really appreciate it, when publishers invest in creating a cover that actually reflects the story in detail. . . . * The abundance of action and gore. * The author's decision not to shy away from including sex in his plot. A lot of writers do so to appease those strange people who continue to pretend that sex is something not belonging into a normal teenager's life – both fictional and real. That really drives me bonkers from time to time. How refreshing to see a heroine who does not treat losing her virginity like a matter of life and death. * Several strong and extremely likable female characters – even in previously unexpected places. * The initially fragile, but later indestructible, Eragon-Saphira-style, exclusive bond between the paranormally gifted kick-ass heroine and the rare, conflicted and highly intelligent mythical creature thrown into her company. Who would not love Yukiko's "taming" of the proud and bristling griffin Buuru and their later mutual come-what-may trust in each other? * That under the disguise of a brutal, slightly romantic, steampunk fantasy set in an alternative Japan a highly relevant, thought-provoking environmental fairytale is genially smuggled onto many reading lists, which reminds me on the one hand of Hayao Miyazaki's masterworks Nausicaä and Princess Mononoke in a very positive way and on the other hand presses a hand-mirror reflecting our own planet-destructing behavior against our greedy noses. I am going to elaborate: - In Princess Mononoke the fierce Lady Eboshi runs a settlement that produces coal from cut-down forest trees to melt ironsand, which is needed to create firearms. The firearms are meant to kill the giant animal-gods protecting the forest and its inhabitants from human exploitation. Lady Eboshi is willing to sacrifice the forest and the magical creatures living there in order for her country's economy to flourish. She actually cares for her workers, but she doesn't see the connection between the mysterious illness many of the men are inflicted with and the destruction of the woods. The imperial hunters want the deer-god's head and they will receive it. In Stormdancer the ruthless ruler and a fanatic group called the Guild have considerably "bettered" the country's economic and political standing by forcing the farmers to grow lotus on their fields, a plant that fuels the various high-tech steampunk machines, appliances, weapons and airships, leads to addiction when consumed in the form of tea or smoke and unfortunately permanently poisons the air around it and the soil it is grown in. To highlight his power the monarch sends out his recently idle hunters to catch the very last magical beast, that had been spotted in one of the rare regions still untouched by the destructive effect of lotus production. - The easily influenced population in want of lotus money reminded me in turn of the Valley-of-the-Wind people in Nausicaä, who eagerly burn down each trace of fungus that reaches their fields, have to wear breathing masks when leaving their wind-filled haven and hold the Omu, huge insects roaming the supposedly deadly fungus forests, responsible for the actually man-made environmental catastrophe. Animal-loving Nausicaae finds out the truth, connects with the gentle Omus and deals with a steampunky, neighboring country threatening to invade the small paradise with their scifi airships. Oh, I can easily imagine Stormdancer turning into a Miyazaki animation film. The plot, the beast and the girl would be perfect. - But what is even more important – and worth a whole rating star for me – is the adaptability to our own present situation: The looming climate problem is evident, but it gets shoved again and again into a dusty backgroud corner to be dealt with later, because shortsightedly securing the immediate want and comfort and well-being of a handful of still thriving countries always gets prioritized. We destroy species after species and their habitats, we squirrel away radioactive time-bombs all over the planet, we make money at war, we figuratively design prettier breathing masks to avoid the stench of our own exhaust and we diplomatically close our eyes, when countries on the rise want to try their hands at high-impact beginners' mistakes, too. We do not import foreign slaves to do the dirty work in front of our doors like the Stormdancer's Emperor does, we prefer putting the factories themselves into far away countries, so we don't have to watch those people slaving away under unhealthy, inhuman conditions, and we can buy another cheap or not so cheap pair of of hip new jeans, while they have to decide between buying a daily bowl of rice or sending a kid to school. I am really grateful to Mr. Kristoff for writing a story that takes place in the midst of a barely stoppable destruction. The only other comparable example I have read so far was Firestorm by David Klass. Most young adult post-apocalyptic novels are – like the label says – set up in a time after an environmental collaps, after the wounded planet rebelled against being treated like something disposable. And usually the teenaged protagonists are handed the broken pieces and try to make the best of it: Living underwater, surviving a draught, contructing a dome ... They play the role of the innocent victim. We – like Yukiko – are not victims, we are doing the deed right now. * The "normal" fantasy plot parts. I had high expectations for the book to be completely different from everything else I have read, but it is certainly not. A lot of plot elements are very familiar, standard fare, really. But for those of us - like me - who usually enjoy high fantasy, that is not necessarily a bad thing. * The ending.
What I disliked ... * The above mentioned vocabulary overload. Glossary or no glossary, all the unnecessary Japanese made reading the first chapters at least extremely exhausting. In fact, it seemed to me like complete lists of traditional japanese weaponry and clothing were put next to the author's computer with the goal to cross off each of them eventually. A lot of concepts could have also been expressed by a simple English word and an unfamiliar, exotic vibe would still have been the outcome. A good example is in my opinion the fantasy debut City of a Thousand Dolls by Miriam Forster. The robes, the fans, the customs, the nomads ... everything was pretty visual, excitingly unfamiliar and special, but I couldn't pinpoint the setting to a single country. There were chinese, japanese and arabic elements and things I believe that were purely fiction. But no glossary and no inbuilt explanation was needed. I could understand it all. I hope that the final version of Stormdancer drops the occasional "Hai", uses plain English for things like jackets, trousers and knives and at least deletes American leanwords like sararimen (salary men). * The lack of world building in the midst of all the elaborate description. For example, I did not get a proper impression of the tree-house village (in comparison Yelena's first visit in the hidden jungle-city complete with floating bridges and braided furniture in Magic Study has burned itself into my memory), I was puzzled by ensuite bathrooms in the imperial palace, I would like to know more about the lotus business and how it facilitates warfare and I needed to dissect several scenes to finally understand Buuru's outer appearance. * Inconsistencies like love-interest Hiro, a green-eyed foreigner with a japanese name serving the nationalist, exclusive Guild and being a trusted servant of the Emperor in spite of obviously not being from "Shima". * The love triangle. * The very forseeable twists and turns on the way to the plot's climax. * The insignificance of Lady Aisha's role. She showed so much promise and surprise and then ... * The missing romance. There was lust and sex and a heroine lost in rather detached dreams of glowing green eyes, but there was nothing to make my heart flutter. I do not ask for an increase of boy-girl-scenes, but for those already there being more intense, more palatable.
I am afraid, this is getting unbearably long. Anyway, I am very grateful for the chance to read the book pre-publication and I recommend it in spite of the above mentioned obstacles, which might scare away a considerable number of potential fans before the story's lotus fumes have begun to lure them in....more
"'I told you that love sucks. But is anyone listening to me? No. England could fall off the map and you’d just smile and keep playing soccer.' JANE IR"'I told you that love sucks. But is anyone listening to me? No. England could fall off the map and you’d just smile and keep playing soccer.' JANE IRANIAN"
Oh, yes, in this sandwiched volume soccer-playing Gracie Faltrain takes control – of lots of things and unfortunately not in a good way at all. When I closed my copy of The Life and Times of Gracie Faltrain, Gracie had finally learned the lesson that soccer is a team sport and that winning takes the combined efforts of all players, but when I delved into the sequel I quickly understood that there is plenty of important stuff Gracie is very far from understanding. Apart from the fact that Gracie needs to become less self-centered and explosive, the most important mantras that have to be forced into her skull are “Winning at all costs might be quite costly” and “Helping others starts with respecting them.” To exchange the second hand-stitched proverb for a simile I could also say that Gracie barrels through people’s lives like a highly-motivated bulldozer driver, who deliberately mistakes rare wildflowers for weeds while keeping his earplugs in to drown out the noise of the tree huggers. Or, if I wanted to express Gracie’s problem without a trace of pomp, I would say: Because Gracie thinks she knows what is best for everybody, she meddles without restraint and without looking back whenever she can:
- For months Gracie is convinced that her best friend calling from overseas will unquestionably be grateful to be interrupted, because it is obvious that Gracie’s problems are more urgent, more severe and much more interesting than the ones she was about to elaborate on. - Gracie pulls all possible strings to “rescue” her quiet, brilliant, library-affine and moderately contented replacement friend Alyce from staying unpopular and - in her unwavable point of view – unhappy forever. (view spoiler)[She forces Alyce to attend parties, to buy different clothes, to flatten her frizzy hair, to tutor a nice, but simple-minded jock for romantic purposes; she ignores her outspoken protest and signs Alyce up for a speech competition; she brazenly avenges every bad word class queen bee Annabelle shoots into her friend's direction - not noticing that crashing into a personal defensive protector actually triggers the inner bully in her arch enemy -, and she makes one of her soccer mates ask the poor girl out to the ball and then brags so loudly about Alyce having scored a date that the embarrassed guy can only save his face by rescinding his invitation. (hide spoiler)] - Although Gracie’s dearest wish is for her parents to mend their relationship, she ruthlessly ruins the first tender moment between them, because she immediately needs them to act on her behalf. - Gracie decides to ignore both her mother’s and her boyfriend’s plea not to do anything and calmly destroys the fine layer of scrab that had recently formed on the festering wound that had been inflicted when Martin’s mother left her family years ago (view spoiler)[by putting an ad into the local paper (hide spoiler)]. - Gracie tries to pressure her boyfriend into ending his friendship with her nemensis by resorting to childish name-calling and popcorn blitzes at the movies. - In order to build up some victory feeling among her team mates Gracie humilitates other soccer teams on the field and then makes sure that they know that they have been bested by someone smaller, quicker and fitter. ”’We’re the only team everyone hates. What does that tell you, Faltrain?’ I ask. 'It tells me we’re better than everyone else, Martin,’ she answers. ‘Faltrain, they should measure your head for science. I reckon it’s the biggest I’ve seen.’ MARTIN KNIGHT”.
Even though I have to admit, that I saw a little something of my younger, impulsive self in Gracie, because I grew up in a family that did not snub shouting, dumping the contents of water bottles and sugar pots on people’s heads or asserting one’s opinion by force as part of the daily war, and because “Live and let live” was a motto that did not come naturally to my parents, Gracie’s enthusiastic hole-digging, which lasted almost 200 of the beautifully worded pages and – regardless of several intervention attempts by her mother - got her in deeper and deeper, was a pretty painful process to behold.
If I had not had the chance to get to know and treasure Gracie so much in the multi-angled first installment, I would probably have lost patience with her antics and rated the story, which is mostly told from Gracie’s one deluded point of view, down quite a bit.
But since it is a middle book, I suffered, but I suffered in hope. ”'Boy meets girl. Girl meets ground.' LOCAL NEWS WEEKLY” writes about a game of Gracie’s team. And so I never really doubted that once Gracie hit the bottom hard she would wake up, come to her senses and finally get it right.
”‘I’ve lost him, haven’t I?’ Love’s like an egg. Break it, and you might still have almost every bit of yolk and white, but there’s no way you’re getting that back in the shell. And even if you could, there’d be still all the cracks. It’s why Mum and Dad are taking all winter to grow the smallest bit of green. It’s why Mrs. Knight never came back. ‘Yes, Gracie, love.’ Mum doesn’t bother lying. ‘I think you’ve lost him for now.’” ...more