A daring venture into alternate history based on the culture and history of Japan. Imagined late in a shogunate paralleling that of the Tokugawas in our version of reality.
Kristoff’s writing is reminiscent of Guy Gavriel Kay’s light fantasies about varied cultures and times. The trick is to set the scene well enough that the reader can both understand what is said as well as be transported to a different time and place. Kristoff does it almost as well as Kay. Shima is as richly conceived and described as Sarantium or Middle-earth.
To complaints that the story isn’t “Japanese” enough, I answer that it is written in English for readers of English. English language conventions, English measurements, and English political theory pervade the story. (With the Old Norse concept of “kenning” thrown in.) A thoroughly Japanese book would be unintelligible to most English readers, even translated into English.
That said, Kristoff gives the reader more than “mock Japanese.” Stormdancer transports the reader to another time and place. Another reality. No, it isn’t Tokugawa Japan, but it also isn’t Melbourne, London or New York City.
Because this apparently was Kristoff’s freshman effort, my rating is rounded upward.