Monday, September 5, 2016

Japanese Steampunk: A Brief Review of Stormdancer

Stormdancer (2012) by Jay Kristoff is an exciting blend of dystopia, steampunk, and feudal Japan.

Unlike other steampunk themed stories I've read such as Jim Butcher's The Aeronaut's Windlass and Foglio's Girl Genius series, Kristoff's Japanese flavored version presented some ethical dilemmas, but ultimately failed to comment on them.

Summary

Stormdancer is about a girl named Yukiko who is sent with her father to hunt an Arashitora--a creature thought to be extinct. The hunters believe this is a death sentence since anyone who fails to obey the Shõgun, Lord of the Shima Isles, is killed.

The quest is not so hopeless, but far more dangerous, and Yukiko finds herself trapped in the forest with a wounded Arashitora. As these two form a bond, Yukiko learns more about the Shõgun's crimes, against her country and her family.

Ethical Dilemmas

The story presents the moral dilemma behind assassinating an evil ruler. The Kagé rebels want Yukiko to use the Arashitora to kill the Shõgun, but she is reluctant until she learns of how he had her mother killed. Then, all the objections to the act are swept aside without comment.

The quandary and the discussion it sparked are promptly ignored for the sake of revenge.

Environmental Issues

The story also touches on environmental issues. Several people comment that their way of life is destroying their world, but Yukiko concludes that they everyday person working to survive doesn't care.

Yet the Arashitora blames Yukiko's people for the destruction, and Yukiko realizes that it is almost too late; something must be done. However, the "power to the people" theme leaves the answer less assured than perhaps Kristoff meant.

Theme

The central theme is Yukiko's belief that "people can decide for themselves" (177).

At the end of the story she hands that to them directly: "Each of you must decide where you stand....All we ask is that you refuse to kneel. You are the people. You have the power. Open your eyes. Open your minds. Then close the fingers on your hand" (313).

Problem

This theme sounds very nice, but it presents some problems, complicating the ethical dilemmas.

What if the people decide that continuing to destroy the environment is how they want to live for as long as they can?

What if defending their new-found hope means killing innocent people--people like Daichi, leader of the Kagé, who was a tool of the evil Shõgun? Yukiko spared his life claiming he couldn't be held accountable for being used.

What if the people decide to put another Shõgun in power who is even more corrupt? Should he be assassinated, too?

Conclusion

Kristoff presents a world where questions of morality are presented, but not answered clearly. I believe this is because underlying Kristoff's belief in the power of people to make their own decisions, he doesn't necessarily trust them to make the "right" decision.

For the sake of a hopeful conclusion, the questions prompted by the ethical dilemmas must be ignored. Perhaps the sequels unpack these ideas more. This opening novel was certainly entertaining, if not cogitative.


What is your favorite steampunk story? How was it different from other steampunk?


Note: Image is of the Calbuco Volcano eruption in April 2015. It is in the public domain.

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