Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Link: Review of Jay Kristoff's Stormdancer

A year ago I started seeing a bit of hype for Jay Kristoff's Stormdancer, which purported to be a "Japanese steampunk novel". I even read a vomit-inducing post from the author himself babbling about how awesome multiculturalism is for steampunk and how he was inspired by James Ng's art to write his novel ('cept, um, hello? China is not Japan?).

After my experiences reading the Windup Girl and the Peshawar Lancers, I'm pretty fuckin' burnt out on white authors writing non-white stories unless they've been critically vetted by people I trust.

So, instead of slogging through what promises to be a steaming pile o' shit masquerading as actual hot steam that makes the world go 'round, I shall instead link to someone else who intrepidly read the book and said everything I pretty much would have said if I had been the one to read it:

I'll admit, I was a little leery of Stormdancer from the start - Japanese steampunk sounds cool, but coming from a white western author, the chances of problematic weeaboo fuckery are high. Exoticization. Romanticization. Plain old appropriation. Yet for some reason, I didn't really peg Stormdancer as a weeaboo outing. I don't know why. There was no good reason, and yet, I expected Kristoff to be a scholar of some sort, or at least, to do some very in-depth, scholarly research, borne of a deep interest in, and respect for, Japanese culture. And while even that could have also potentially yielded something problematic, at least it would have been sincere. What I thoroughly did NOT expect to get was a book informed by fucking Wikipedia and anime, set in Japan for the sake of novelty. That came as a genuine shock. And a dramatic rise in blood pressure. WHAT THE FUCKITY FUCK? 
The thing is, that Wikipedia part? You can kinda tell. I mean, the first hundred pages or so of Stormdancer, basically until the airship crashes, are a chore to wade through, mostly because of the Wikipedia-esque info dumps. It takes almost exactly half of those pages to make any progress on the plot. The first fifty are just about showing off the world and detailing every little aspect of it, which is why it takes like twelve paragraphs for Yukiko and her father to walk down a street: we have to hear about the architecture, detail the clothing being worn (because we're using Japanese terms here, and not many readers will know offhand what a fucking hakama looks like), and explain the exact geographical setting, right down to which rivers cross where, and the ~exotic smells~ in the air, even though none of it is actually relevant to anything that's going on at the moment. I understand wanting to set the scene and acquaint readers with the world, but Jesus Herbet Christ, get on with it already. Work this stuff in to the action. Make me not want to put the book down out of sheer boredom. I mean, I haven't even gotten the chance to get angry yet.
Aside from the obvious appropriativeness of the text, it also sounds like Eurocentrism got married to Straight Dude Sexism and had a baby in the form of incompetent writing.

I don't care if you're writing a secondary world or an alternate history. If you can't manage basics right, you probably shouldn't be writing this story at all. Maybe I shouldn't blame Jay Kristoff too much; maybe being a weaboo who cannot tell when he is being a racist is an easy trap to fall into. But I will come down hard on his agent and editors who thought this racist dreck was worth publishing, because these people are supposed to be a bit more discerning (but time and again, it's been proven that many privileged folks are not very discerning when it comes to issues of justice, so....).

As for bloggers who helped this guy promote, a couple of whom are people I like, I hope you will be more discriminating in the future.

h/t to Requires Hate for the link!


  1. Thanks for this. I'm so glad I came across this link after seeing that beautiful cover, but before buying the book. Looks like you can't judge a book by its cover...or maybe you can. So disappointing.

  2. I haven't even read this book, but I still wrote an entire blog post on how angry it made me that he gave the love interest green eyes (link). So disappointing! :( But yeah, Cyna's review is awesome.