This post will be SO filled with spoilers, it’s not even funny. It would be impossible for me to discuss how deeply my feels were effected by this series if I couldn’t talk about all the details of what happened, so I will not even try. By the end of this you will know all of the wonderful and terrible happenings of these books, so if you haven’t read them, you have about 5 more paragraphs before stuff starts to get spoiled for you! If you haven’t read them and choose to stick around, well, that’s your fault. I will give ONE MORE warning before we jump into infested waters, so beware!
I really only discovered the magic that is Jay Kristoff a little over a year ago. It started because everyone was so excited about the Illuminae series, and then talk of how epic Nevernight was. Both of those series are incredible, and it was Nevernight’s unforgiving, bloody, stabby, violent, sass that had me adding Jay to my auto-buy-author list, and hunting down everything he has ever written. Further credit for my picking up this series goes to Jessi of @novelheartbeatcreations and @novelheartbeat, who constantly expounds upon it on her Instagram feed!
All of those things combined had me ordering the entire trilogy sometime in summer 2018. Which then sat on my TBR shelf. For ages. Until I promised myself it would be the first thing I read in 2019. And now that I have held myself to this promise, and finished the entire trilogy, I can say three things without question:
1) Jay Kristoff is a literary genius.
2) Jay Kristoff is a dick.
3) I don’t know how anything else this year can stack up to these.
Let’s delve further into this, shall we?
Yukiko lives in the Shima Isles, a once beautiful land that is now utterly ravaged by the toxic fumes that engulf it, thanks to the technological creations of the Lotus Guild. So poisoned is the country that even the animals have fled or died off, including the legendary Arashitoras, or Thunder Tigers. But when rumors spread that one has been sighted, Yukiko and her father Masaru are sent by the Shõgun to capture it for him. A seemingly impossible task in which failure means death by dishonor, it proves to be more deadly than anyone could have guessed.
Now Yukiko finds herself stranded in the far wilds of her dying country with only a flightless arashitora for company. But the pair begin to form an unbreakable bond, and together they discover just how deep the treachery of the Shõgun goes. Determined to return and make him pay, and perhaps save the country from certain death in the process, Yukiko and Buruu must determine what two beings can do against an entire empire.
Our story begins with us getting our first look at just how ravaged the Shima Isles are. So polluted has it become, that the sky is permanently red. So long distant was the sky blue that it is practically myth, and not a living soul can say they saw it that way. Along with the red sky, a thick haze lay over everything, obscuring the sun no matter the time of day, so the red light is diffused always. When it rains, the rain is black and acidic, burning the skin if exposed too long, and deadly to drink. In fact, clean water is near impossible to find and extremely expensive to obtain. Similarly, meat is almost non-existent as most animals have gone extinct from the pollution. Fresh greens are almost as rare.
People must wear some form of ventilation at all times, and eye protection when under the sun. The very rich can afford real ventilators that filter out the air’s toxins, while the poor have to make due with a cloth over the mouth. Needless to say, the poor do not tend to live long before they are poisoned and die. The Lotus Guild members exist inside completely bio-mechanical suits, so encased that no one ever sees the humans inside.
One of the best parts of the story is how vividly Jay describes the state of the world in these books. You can smell the toxic air, and feel it cloying in your throat. Your eyes want to squint against the red haze of the hidden sun, and your skin crawls at the idea of spending every day living in such conditions.
Spoiler Alert Part 2
Okay, up until now you were pretty much safe from spoilers. If you haven’t read the books yet, STOP HERE and go pick them up ASAP. They are amazing and heartbreaking and will ruin you while still becoming an all-time favorite. After you have finished, THEN come back and continue this post. You can thank me in the comments.
Yukiko makes a wonderful main character, and her near hopelessness against the state of things is keenly felt as the reader. She is sent along with her father, Masaru, and friend, Akihito, to capture this mythical storm tiger, and her driving fear is that they will be killed by the Shõgun when they do not find them. In fact, she has zero belief that they will. So it comes as a massive shock when they not only spot the arashitora, but capture him too. Masaru cuts his pinion feathers, keeping him from flying, and trap him in a cage aboard the ship. However, since arashitora’s are called storm tigers because of their ability to call storms, their sky ship is struck down and Yukiko risks her own life to free the creature, saving him from certain death trapped aboard the falling ship, instead of getting in the escape pod with Masaru and Akihito.
Yukiko and Buruu (as she names him) quickly develop a bond, as she possesses the ability to communicate with animals mind-to-mind. Buruu is hilarious and awesome, and his growing ability to use and understand sarcasm result in some great moments. I also love the feral side of things, and sometimes he gets a little “kill them all and eat their eyes” and its always good for a chuckle.
I enjoyed getting to meet the rebel group, the Kagé. They are totes anti-empire and are desperate to try and overthrow the government and the Lotus Guild and return the land to its former glory and unpolluted beauty. They offer a mix of cast that include some awesome people like Michi, and some asshats like some of the younger more arrogant rebels. They welcome Yuki and Buruu in with open arms and give them time to collect themselves. They are the reason Yuki gets hell-bent on vengeance, and they are so ready to take advantage of having her on their side – even if their goals don’t 100% align.
As part of the Master Plan, Yuki and Buruu travel to the capital so Yuki can pretend to turn Buruu over to the Shõgun for his use. This works pretty well, and Yuki lands herself the job of “taming” Buruu for the Shõgun to eventually ride into battle. They do a good job pretending Buruu is feral and uncooperative, and are just biding their time until Buruu’s wings heal from his original capture, at which point they can cut down the Shõgun and fly away. It’s actually a pretty solid plan, despite the fact that it obviously can’t ever be that easy.
Yuki starts up a relationship with her guard, Hiro, and that is equal parts great and awful. You can feel her becoming attached, but also resigned to the fact that he’s all about honor and the Shogun, and highly unlikely to side with her in her attempts at revenge. It is definitely nice to see Yuki have something for herself in the midst of the chaos, though, so there is that. I just feel like there is no way for it to end well.
On the other side, we have Kin, a Lotus Guild member who wishes for a better life than one trapped inside a metal suit living in a poisoned world, who is very clearly in love with Yukiko and willing to do anything to help her. While it does seem a little like she takes advantage of this attachment, I also feel like she maybe doesn’t see how even small signs of friendship or affection would mean way more to someone who has literally never been able to even touch another human being skin to skin. To me, they are end-game, but maybe in like a Katniss and Peeta kind of way, where Kin is what she needs in her life to make her safe and happy, with love growing later. That’s just my prediction going forward.
Things wrap up pretty spectacularly for the first book. Yukiko is chasing down the Shõgun when he shoots her, only to have her dad jump in front of the bullet and die. Like…WHAT?! Book one and we are already killing characters off?! This doesn’t bode well. Yuki uses her rage and her abilities to literally snuff the life right out of the Shõgun without even touching him. It’s totally badass and makes her the hero of the commoners and the enemy of those in power. Then Hiro gets all venegful and tries to kill Yuki, almost succeeding despite her stabbing him in the chest, at which point Buruu rips his entire arm right off his body like a hawk gutting a mouse. SO B.A. I loved how unapologetically vicious this book is. And there we have book one.
Three words: What. The. Fuck?! That was my reaction about 30000x during this book. First, Yuki’s powers are going haywire and she’s having excruciating migraines and bleeding from her eyes and nose and ears anytime she tries to talk to Buruu for more than 3 minutes. And then we have the Kagé who are kind of being asshats, especially to Kin who is trying so hard to help them only to be kicked down at every turn. It’s super frustrating, because he wants so badly to make things better and right, but they refuse to trust him because of where he came from.
Then we meet another storm tiger and it’s a female!!! In fact, Buruu gets completely single-minded and even blocks out Yukiko in his quest to follow her scent. In the process they are shot down and Yuki is captured by gaijin. She has no idea if Buruu survived, since his hormone-crazed mind wasn’t allowing them to communicate even before they are both hurt. Not to mention how her powers are still on the fritz.
We meet some crazy foreigners and things are VERY confusing for a bit, until Yuki manages to escape. And then we meet another arashitora, another male, and he is killed within minutes in a horrible way and my mind was like WHAT IS EVEN HAPPENING?! And now we have a gaijin ally who apparently owes a life debt to a now-dead rebel Lotus Guild member. Circles within circles, my friends.
Then we find out the craziest bit of info yet: Yuki is PREGNANT!!! WITH TWINS!!!!!!!! And obviously they are Hiro’s and of course she just stabbed him and Buruu literally ripped him apart, so that’s all sorts of tragic. The reason for her crazy migraines is because the babies have her powers too, which amplify her own x3, making them overwhelming. This is NUTS.
BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE! Not only is Hiro alive, but he’s now been set up as the new Shõgun and he is hell-bent on destroying Yuki. Despite the fact that honor dictates he should have committed sepuku for failing to save the Shõgun, he has made it his life’s mission to take Yuki down in a blaze of glory. He doesn’t even really seem to care about his new position of power, and appears to just be going along with it as it will make his end goal easier to accomplish if he has the might of the empire behind him. In fact, he’s totally letting the Lotus Guild run the show, including allowing a MASSIVE ROBOT THING called the EarthCrusher to run rampant over the land. Their excuse is it’s the perfect weapon to end their war with the gaijin once and for all, but of course Hiro has to first test it out by taking it to wipe out some cities of those who refuse to swear allegiance, including the Kagé and (he hopes) Yukiko.
We also meet some new characters, Hanna and Yoshi, twins with the same powers to talk to animals as Yuki. I love Hanna so much. She’s super brave and very crafty, and has a crazy backstory that only gets revealed in pieces. Her brother I was less impressed with. He wants to make a better life for his sister and his boyfriend, but he definitely goes about it the wrong way and this does NOT end well for anyone. Then we also discover Hanna and Yoshi are half gaijin and are blonde, but have been dying their hair all this time to blend in.
Yuki and the Kagé manage to infiltrate the capital and do some serious damage. In the resulting aftermath, shit goes down and Yuki and the Kagé are at odds with one another, inevitably parting ways. Hanna and Yoshi join up and Hanna gets herself a storm tiger (Buruu’s lady friend from earlier). Now we have 2 Stormdancers!
I spent most of this book sobbing uncontrollably. It was so bad that at several points I had to put the book down because I couldn’t actually see the words through my tears. An entire box of tissues was used.
Let’s count the reasons why. First, Buruu has a FAMILY! Also, he is the rightful king of his kind, and he goes back to take control so he can bring more storm tigers to help with the war. But we find out he has a mate AND A SON. And we have like one little moment of them being reunited and Buruu and his little cub flying around and it’s so heart-wrenching.
Next, everyone dies. Like, everyone. First Akihito and Hanna finally find comfort in one another. Then it turns out Hanna is from some sort of gaijin bloodline that’s very important and also she’s the type of magical that they all worship, except – oh no – she would have had to be a virgin, so the other priestess chicks CUT DOWN AKIHITO IN COLD BLOOD for “ruining” her and Hanna flips her shit and everything goes to hell.
Then we have like a million more deaths and we find out the Lotus Guild is being secretly controlled by a sect that worships this crazy evil death god and their one goal, now realized, is to rip down the barricade that keeps Her contained in the underworld. So now everyone (Hiro, Kagé, gaijin, and everyone in between) must band together to save the world and close the portal that has ripped open. And this is where things get HORRIBLE.
First Michi is cut down trying to take out Hiro. Yuki faces Hiro and tells him about the babies, promising they will never know his name, and he is totally shamed by this and ends up having a come-to-Jesus moment. SO he sacrifices himself in a blaze of glory to get Yuki a slight advantage against the evils that be.
Then Yuki and Buruu realize that the only way to close the portal is for a Stormdancer and Arishitora to basically kamikaze into it and use their blood (which can cast out the poisons and the evil) to destroy it. Realizing that he cannot let Yukiko sacrifice herself and her unborn twins, Buruu engineers a plan with the help of Yoshi and Hanna (by now with storm tigers of their own), and flings Yuki free at the last moment, snags up Yoshi, who has willingly traded his life for hers, and they sacrifice themselves into the gate in Yuki’s place.
I LOST IT!!! The whole time I was reading it my mind could not accept that this was happening and that Buruu was just gone. But no, it was all real. No loophole or sudden reappearance. Nope. Nope. Nope. aaaaand now I’m getting teary again.
Well, the book pretty much wraps up at this point and we get a nice epilogue to maybe help slap a BandAid on the gaping wound where my heart once sat. We jump to a decade later and find that Yuki (and Hanna) have been traveling the empire using their blood to cleanse the poison from the land, and today she will clean the very last spot in a grand ceremony. The Lotus Guild is no longer a bunch of evil twats, things are looking good, the twins are good, Yuki and Kin are married and have another child of their own, and Yuki has been sans-Buruu for a decade.
The story ends with a moment that will simultaneously break your heart and heal it. Yuki is standing alone, proud of all she has done to make the world better, but aching with the loss of Buruu, an ache that has never lessened, and wishing he were here to savor the moment with her. When suddenly, she sees a figure flying towards her, and hears a voice in her mind. And my heart leapt and went “HOLY S*^% COULD IT BE…” just like Yuki’s no doubt did. Alas, it was not Buruu. BUT it was his son! Come to find the one that was his father’s other half. And they touch and the story ends and I cried some more and then went on Instagram and yelled at Jay Kristoff, which you can see in the following exchange:
I left out SO MANY details, many of which were important to the story, in my rant/recap/review here, but it really would be impossible to go over every detail unless I wanted this post to be prohibitively long. But, if you have gotten this far, you have either already read the books or have just gotten some MAJOR spoilers, so you’ll def forgive me. I absolutely adored this series and it has joined the ranks among my all-time favorites. I will definitely be rereading it, but not until my heart heals from the devastation of Buruu’s death. So in like a decade or something.
Tell me your thoughts on this series in the comments below! Did it destroy you as much as it destroyed me? What was the highlight moment for you? What did you read after to help with the inevitable hangover? Do share!