A review by Nalini Haynes
Format: paperback, 661 pages (excluding glossary and acknowledgements)
Endsinger is the third in the Lotus War trilogy that started with Stormdancer and Kinslayer (reviews at the links).
Yukiko is a teenager with a gift of telepathy with animals and, to a lesser extent, with humans. This gift helped her forge a bond with Buruu, a griffon or thunder-tiger, in the first book. Shima (a Japan-type country) has legends about other thunder-tiger riders, called Stormdancers.
The Guild (apparently there’s only one) forces farmers to grow lotus (not to be mistaken for our water lilies). This lotus is used for fuel that poisons the air so people who breathe unfiltered air die young of black lung (think coal miners’ lung disease). The lotus plants poison the soil so that, after a few years, the land where the lotus grows cannot sustain anything, not even more lotus plants.
Very soon Shima won’t have any arable land left. It’s not clear where the country gets its food at the time of the story.
Rebels fight the Guild. However, the rebels are a people without order or enforcers. In Kinslayer, some rebel teenagers bullied and assaulted a prisoner, causing a divide between a Guild traitor, Kin, and Yukiko. However, that series of events was rewritten retrospectively in Endsinger.
In Kinslayer Yukiko’s telepathic abilities overwhelmed her so much that she got catatonically drunk every night. Then she learns the reason her telepathic abilities went into overload is because she’s pregnant. With twins. But it’s all good. Serious alcohol consumption apparently doesn’t cause fetal alcohol syndrome in this brave new world. We won’t even get into the teenage pregnancy issues or that the father of Yukiko’s twins wants to kill her after she mutilated him. Those babies won’t have any parental issues, obviously.
Also in Kinslayer, another thunder tiger shows up: Kaiah. Kaiah hates Buruu and blames him for the deaths of her mate and children. In Endsinger Buruu doles out his backstory in medicinal doses over a period of time, just like antibiotics or a series of immunization shots. How does he know the story when Kaiah can’t bear to talk to him and he’s been exiled from his people? Iunno.
Anyhoo, Buruu takes Yukiko home to meet the family and ask for help. As you do.
All the dragons are dead. Except for the sea dragons, who love hunting under the thunder-tigers’ territory. And the mummy and daddy dragons sleeping in the volcano in the thunder-tiger territory. And the dragons who went north to escape the pollution. I guess the world is full of dragons.
Yukiko senses lots of these dragons during the week-long journey to Buruu’s home.
How does Yukiko manage to sit on Buruu’s back for a week straight while they fly over the ocean? She’s pregnant. She has to, y’know, PEE AND STUFF. That makes for an interesting picture. Perhaps Yukiko wears a harness dangling from Buruu’s claws dangling over the snapping sea dragons trying to pee and take a dump?
Buruu is from the tribe of “the last thunder-tigers left in all the world…” except for a few packs of thunder-tigers with black feathers from that other place.
In Kinslayer, Buruu was all animal, mostly instinct and without a verbal language. His relationship with Yukiko changed him, developing him into a hybrid creature while changing Yukiko. However, in Endsinger all the thunder-tigers have language embracing difficult concepts like being an endangered species and the consequences of killing one another, much more so than you’d expect for creatures of the wild.
Buruu’s brother was in a fair fight to draw first blood with a thunder-tiger visiting from overseas and the brother won. Later, he was in another fair fight with someone else when the visitor attacked from above, mutilating the brother in an attempt to kill him. Obviously the visitor was a sore loser.
Suddenly the rules changed: the rule of ‘to first blood only’ wasn’t a rule. It was more of a guideline. I guess.
Buruu’s maimed brother and his third, healthy brother were angry when their father the Khan (ruler of the thunder-tigers, no relation to Cucumbers of any color) made peace with the other tribe. They were so angry they killed not the perpetrator of the maiming but their father. Which is an evil beyond compare in this tribe: to kill any thunder-tiger but to also kill kin. So Buruu kills them.
To claim Khan is a fight to the death in a society that doesn’t allow killing of their own kind and yet Buruu is exiled for killing his brothers who, together and not in one-on-one combat, killed their father.
Kaiah blames Buruu for the deaths of her mate and children because Buruu was exiled when the thunder-tigers from overseas flew in and killed everyone? Took over the tribe? The story seems a little confused on this point because if it was just a takeover, then why kill the children? Unless the children were adults defending their territory with their father and all the other males who were killed — so how could Buruu, one lonely thunder-tiger not then at maturity, have saved the tribe by not being exiled? Or by not having killed his brothers who murdered their father?
Early on, Kristoff played with the line between drama and melodrama by failing to kill his darlings. There’s a particular sentence structure he loves, which goes something like this: “Two characters in a place together, a few dozen feet and a thousand miles apart.” Although he varies the wording, when he’s used this same sentence structure about 3 times before 1/3 of the way through 1 novel, it becomes ‘melodrama by a thousand cuts’. Likewise with repeated conversations like the ones involving Hana (another stormdancer) and Piotr (just some guy, y’know?) where the second, almost identical, conversation precipitates action although the first didn’t.
Finally, sexist and racist tropes undermine the wonderful image of a Japanese-centric cross-cultural story. “Whore” is repeatedly used as a metaphor, especially for cities; I find this repugnant, jolting me out of the story. Racist tropes use phrases like “black feathers and black hearts” to distinguish the “other” thunder-tigers from the good (white) thunder-tigers. Shima’s war on other races, taking land, slaves and murdering thousands for lotus mulch (literally!) also undermines the interracial nature of the story. Shima is in civil war, with many of its own people victims and rebels, but with the scope of the external war and corruption, the story begins to feel less corporate-greed and more Shima-is-bad with a few underdogs fighting for freedom while others fight to watch the world burn (even some rebels are bad).
Endsinger danced along the razor’s edge separating drama and melodrama before slipping and mutilating itself, leaving a bloody mess as it plunged into the Bog of Eternal Soapies. So far I’ve only read half the book but, at this pace, I need to move on to other, shorter, stories. Based on what I’ve read, I’m giving Endsinger 3 stars with the note that, before I became overwhelmed with review books and analyzing stories with a view to writing them, I would have loved this book.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars