Kinslayer by Jay Kristoff
In this novel, set soon after the events of “Stormdancer,” our heroine, Yukiko, is traveling the county sowing the seeds of rebellion while the ruling elite scramble to find a leader who can keep the power structure from crumbling. There is a lot of stuff going on in this book. The many swirling stories can feel disjointed at times but I’m still enthralled by the world that Mr. Kristoff has created. It is rich and feels lived in. Set in an alternative, steampunk version of shogunate Japan, the worlds of mystical beasts and advanced mechanized warfare collide. I’m looking forward to the conclusion of the trilogy to see which side prevails.
Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff
A steampunk, fantasy novel set in feudal Japan? Yes, please. However, “Stormdancer” is so much more than that. There are demons, griffins and a protagonist who can hear animals’ thoughts. It also has all the makings of a good dystopian novel: a tyrannical leader, religious zealots, haves and have nots and the seeds of rebellion. I particularly came to like the main character, Yukiko. Although there is a a love triangle that I did not feel was entirely necessary, Yukiko is a good example of a strong heroine who confronts demons both inwardly and outwardly. Mr. Kristoff’s writing has not-so-subtle environmentalist and political overtones but he makes his points without arrogance and without distracting from the storyline. His writing also contains very vivid imagery which helps convey the rich detail of his world and deepens the emotional impact of the story. If you are going to read only one Japanese steampunk novel, make sure it’s this one!
Japan 1941: Countdown to Infamy by Eri Hotta
Review: Ms. Hotta’s book on the eight months prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor is a diplomatic, fact-based account that still does not pull any punches in detailing Japan’s unfortunate decisions leading up to December 8, 1941 (December 7th in Hawaii). It uses primary source documents from government archives and contemporary citizen papers to discuss the Japanese side of the events. Like a tragedy of errors, one hard line decision after another, created a situation in which Japan felt that it had no choice but to start a war that they knew was virtually unwinnable.
“They felt they had to choose between waging a reckless war and giving up all of Japan’s imperialistic conquests of many years in order to stave off war. They tended to ignore that such extreme choices grew directly out of their own recent decisions and actions. As they made more diplomatic missteps and committed themselves to an impracticable war, claiming all the while to be more prepared then they ever were, their range of policy options both at home and with the outside world narrowed considerably. It was as if Tokyo had gotten stuck in the thin end of a funnel. The war option, it must have seemed to those leaders, provided the quickest and surest way of breaking free of that constricting situation. That they didn’t think about what would happen afterward was a tragic act of negligence.”
Those in power had an overconfidence in their alliance with Germany and an ultranationalist view that prevented them from truly negotiating with the U.S. even when it would have resulted in favorable terms. If you have any interest in history and World War II, I recommend this unique take. Ms. Hotta’s writing can be, at times, a little dry but overall it was very informative.