Tuesday, September 10, 2013
Review: Kinslayer by Jay Kristoff
Review: Kinslayer by Jay Kristoff
Release date: September 17th, 2013
Publisher: Thomas Dunne/ St. Martin's
Series: #2 in the Lotus War series
Source: ARC from the publisher
Rating: Brilliantly plotted with an array of fascinating characters and dense, original world-building. Also OW OW MY FEELS
A SHATTERED EMPIRE
The mad Shōgun Yoritomo has been assassinated by the Stormdancer Yukiko, and the threat of civil war looms over the Shima Imperium. The Lotus Guild conspires to renew the nation’s broken dynasty and crush the growing rebellion simultaneously – by endorsing a new Shōgun who desires nothing more than to see Yukiko dead.
A DARK LEGACY
Yukiko and the mighty thunder tiger Buruu have been cast in the role of heroes by the Kagé rebellion. But Yukiko herself is blinded by rage over her father’s death, and her ability to hear the thoughts of beasts is swelling beyond her power to control. Along with Buruu, Yukiko’s anchor is Kin, the rebel Guildsman who helped her escape from Yoritomo’s clutches. But Kin has his own secrets, and is haunted by visions of a future he’d rather die than see realized.
A GATHERING STORM
Kagé assassins lurk within the Shōgun’s palace, plotting to end the new dynasty before it begins. A waif from Kigen’s gutters begins a friendship that could undo the entire empire. A new enemy gathers its strength, readying to push the fracturing Shima imperium into a war it cannot hope to survive. And across raging oceans, amongst islands of black glass, Yukiko and Buruu will face foes no katana or talon can defeat.
The ghosts of a blood-stained past.
There will be spoilers for book one, Stormdancer, in the following review. Read Stormdancer, okay? It's good for your health.
The cover: Jay Kristoff gets THE BEST COVERS. Look at that glory. It's so dynamic and badass. Check out the blood scraped across Yukiko's face! And the sea dragon! And Buruu's magnificent self!
The story: All right... how to write a coherent review of Kinslayer...
*blinks* *stares at blank page* *cursor blinks back*
So we left the world of Stormdancer with things in a state of upheaval. Yukiko has assassinated the evil Shogun, and she and her magnificent thunder-tiger, Buruu, have united with the Kage rebellion. Hiro, her ex-lover, is a vicious evil traitor, so Yukiko kills him too, and then her father dies in her arms. The nation of Shima is still poisoned by lotus, and the Guild is still immensely creepy, except for Kin, who has officially escaped them.
The reason it's so difficult to talk about Kinslayer in a sane and orderly way is because so much happens in it. We're introduced to so many vivid characters, and flung headfirst into this harsh and brutal world where even the skies are ugly. The plot and world-building are so complex that it almost feels like real events (thank God it's not, because Shima is one of the only fantasy nations I've visited that I NEVER want to visit) (except to bond with a thunder-tiger. I'd totally want to do that). In Stormdancer, we visited a fantastical, blood-red, steampunk version of Japan that was strangely beautiful despite the fact that it's poisoned and dying. The mountains in the north are green and clear, and there are those willing to fight fiercely and bravely to save their country.
But in Kinslayer, every trace of beauty seems to disappear. This book is dark and bloody and gritty. Every character has suffered atrocities, and so every character is hardened in some way. Some, like Yukiko, seem actively tortured by their actions and memories. Girlfriend's a mess. Her Kenning (her ability to communicate with animals) is way off, causing her to bleed from her facial orifices and also causing her to drink heavily. Kin has thrown over the corrupt Guild that he's been a part of all his life. People suffer in this book. People die. ANIMALS DIE. And yet I couldn't put it down.
Kristoff is not afraid to hit where it hurts, and I love him for it, while also cursing him soundly on Twitter. You guys know I love when books, and particularly high fantasy wherein the stakes are life and death, are brave enough to be brutal. And this book, mostly in the second half, moves at a rollicking pace. Unlike in Stormdancer, we don't need to relearn the world (well, you do, a little. I reread Stormdancer right before diving into this and that made it FIFTY times easier). SD was a trifle slow in the beginning. Kinslayer is never slow. Kinslayer flies along like Buruu and his steel wings, tearing every one of your positive feelings to shreds as it goes.
Fun teasery fact: The title does not (explicitly) refer to the character of Kin. MAKE OF THAT WHAT YOU WILL.
We meet a lot of new characters in Kinslayer, which I like. I like that this epic scale rebellion is not limited to Yukiko's character or point of view--you need other, just as interesting viewpoint characters to tell the story. There's Hana, nicknamed No One, is possibly my favorite of the bunch. She is one-eyed and socially invisible with a job as a cleaner of chamber pots in the palace. She's underestimated by everyone around her, except herself. Hana is bad-ass. Speaking of BAD-ASS, we get more Michi in this one, aka the handmaiden of Lady Aisha. MICHI. MAN. I sent so many flaily DMs to Christina about Michi and Hana's awesomeness. Then there's Hana's brother, Yoshi--
Nope, not THAT Yoshi, though it honestly took me a little while to stop picturing a tiny green dinosaur. Book-Yoshi is fiercely protective of his little sister and very much in love with his boyfriend (Ho!Yay!). I adore all these characters in all their imperfect glory, but of course Jay Kristoff is an enemy of joy and he makes them all suffer mightily. Buruu, obviously, is still the best ever--arrogant, powerful, and fiercely loyal to Yukiko. He also made me laugh out loud and very hard many times.
He also does one thing that was so, incredibly shocking I was actually SPEECHLESS. If you see this coming, you MUST be clairvoyant. Never in a MILLION YEARS DID I SEE THAT HAPPENING. I SCREAMED.
You are not prepared for this book, guys. You will be punched in the gut and the face and the nose and the feels. And things leave off so well set-up for an epic-beyond-epic finale showdown that I'm kind of dying for the third one. Kin! Yukiko! MICHI! HANAAAAA! That was my entire thought process during the seconf half of Kinslayer. You are not ready. You are not prepared. But Inzanagi's balls, READ IT ANYWAY.