The world. I mean ... holy seriously epically amazing world, Batgirl. It's a steampunk dystopian commentary on post-Industrial Revolution consumerism set against a backdrop of epic Asian fantasy. It's very different from most of what is being marketed to YA right now, and I think readers will enjoy the change.
The characters. These aren't your typical YA characters, because honestly, this really isn't a YA book. This is a book for fantasy readers who love lush, epic prose and whose reading skills and preferences transcend the YA genre. I think readers on both sides of the genre coin (YA and adult) will enjoy the book if they know what it is going into it. I loved that the characters are flawed and authentic and real. The narration is third person so we get to see inside the heads of multiple characters. The first time this narration transition happened, it caught me off guard, and it took a page or two to catch up and realize I wasn't in Yukiko's head any more, but I did enjoy seeing the story from other perspectives.
The stakes. All great novels have high stakes, and I personally love novels where the emotional stakes for the characters are as high as the stakes in the plot. This plot gives us quite a few arcs to follow, from potential treason/revolution against a brutal and incapable leader, to the heartbreak and tension between a father and daughter.
What Left Me Wanting More:
The descriptions. Don't get me wrong, they are GORGEOUS. I mean, Jay can seriously write. But sometimes it took ten pages to get down a street because every single thing was described in such beautiful detail. I found myself losing the thread of the plot, or the sense of urgency, and I also found myself unable to hold all of those little details clearly in my head without stopping to think, and that took me out of the plot, too. However, I went into this thinking I was reading a YA steampunk fantasy, and that's not what this is. If I'd understood I was reading an epic fantasy, where long, detailed descriptions of world and character are the norm, and the action is slow to start because the author takes time to carefully build the world first, I might have felt differently. As it is, the writing is stunning, and readers who enjoy detailed world building will love it.
The label "Japanese" steampunk. I think the most accurate label is "Japanese-inspired steampunk," and I think that's an important distinction. This isn't Japan. There are images and customs and words and mythology borrowed from Japan, yes. And it all works together to create a unique and fascinating world. But if you go into this expecting all Japanese words to be used exactly as if you were in Japan, or if you think all customs will exactly follow Japanese customs, you might be disappointed. This is inspired by Japanese culture (and sometimes I think by manga and anime, leaving more "Asian-inspired" flavor to some parts), and that's awesome. It works. Just don't hold it to the standard of being JAPAN because it isn't, and I don't think the author ever intended it to be.
An original, ambitious, and gorgeous debut, STORMDANCER thrusts epic steampunk fantasy into the mainstream, and readers who love epic fantasy, Asian-inpsired worlds, or mature steampunk stories will enjoy this.