a review by Nalini Haynes
Kinslayer is the second in the Lotus War trilogy by Jay Kristoff. The first in this trilogy, Stormdancer, has been shortlisted for both the Gemmell Morningstar Award and the Gemmell Legend Award (shortlists and voting at the links).
Kinslayer is EVEN BETTER than Stormdancer.
For those who came in late: the Lotus War trilogy is a Japanese steampunk drama with romantic elements – what more can you ask for?
If you haven’t read Stormdancer, this review contains spoilers. You have been warned.
Kinslayer picks up where Stormdancer left off: the Kagé (rebellion) are fighting to free Shima (a Japanese-based society) from the caste system controlled by the Guild who demand Lotus be grown to fuel their machines. Fertilised with the bodies of thousands of humans, Lotus poisons the air and soil.
Yukiko, the Stormdancer who befriended thunder-tiger (griffin) Buruu and killed the Shogun, is a symbol of the rebellion. Since killing the Shogun, she becomes overwhelmed by hearing too much ‘noise’ in the Kenning, resulting in unbearable migraines.
Kin, the Guildsman who joined Yukiko, works with the Kagé but prejudice builds a wall between Kin and those he would befriend.
Michi, lady-in-waiting to the heir of the ruling dynasty Lady Aisha, is imprisoned in the palace dungeons while Lady Aisha is held captive by more sinister means.
No One, a clan-less girl who cleans chamber pots in the palace, joins the Kagé. No One’s life is complicated by a brother, Yoshi, and his lover, Jurou.
A cast of complex characters embark on their separate hero’s journeys. Conflicts lead to consequences, not unlike the behaviour of historical figures. Challenges with unexpected plot twists riveted me to my seat.
Events build to a crescendo, twining disparate characters together into a cohesive and complex plot, sweeping the reader along for all 605 pages.
Jay dropped one clanger: within a short space of time two characters met who had never previously met AND who previously knew each other personally. Fortunately this mistake did not affect the plot; both back-stories could have had the same outcome.
If Kinslayer was a movie it would pass the gender-bias Bechdel Test because the women, although varied in character, focus on things other than the menz when talking to each other, not to mention their internal dialogue when making choices. Jay has surpassed himself and many more experienced male authors in writing the female characters for Kinslayer.
Jay’s prose is, if anything, MORE polished, MORE expressive, than in Stormdancer. Descriptive passages evoke images and mood for the reader, passages like: ‘The downpour bent like a bowstring, droplets as fat as lotusflies splitting into blinding steam-thin spray’. Some adjectives are so closely linked with a character that a hint – such as using the word ‘piss’ to evoke a colour – identifies a re-appearing character as surely as a character’s theme music does in a screen presentation.
Jay’s nod to Japanese culture doesn’t end with a fantasy society based upon traditional Japan, its culture and mode of dress. Jay has carefully crafted steampunk weaponry with clear roots in historical weapons, such as the chi (or lotus-powered) chainsaw versions of real swords. Steampunk-esque breather masks and goggles are an essential feature of costumes, a feature based on necessity due to pollution, individually crafted by the word-smith to suit the finances, station and vanity of the wearer.
And there is a gigantic robot. Can anyone say ‘FAN SERVICE’?
I’m wondering how long it will be before the Lotus War is translated into Japanese. And developed as anime. Personally I want a big-budget TV series, at least one season per book, like another TV series of which you might have heard. With lots of bronze or silver breathers, goggles, weapons; silk and wooden dirigibles… I’ll even settle for fan art and cosplay photos.
Stormdancer is a much-loved novel from 2012; I predict Kinslayer will attract an even greater following. Kinslayer has fabulous imagery evoked by delicious prose, believable complex characters combined with incredible momentum in the story arc. Highly recommended.
NOW I WANT BOOK THREE, JAY.
Last year, Jay Kristoff spoke to me about Stormdancer and his writing career.