I only had two real issues with Stormdancer. Firstly, I found the initial set-up to be excruciatingly dull. The same imagery was repeated over and over to convey just how diseased/tepid/stained the landscape was. I liked that it was continued throughout Stormdancer, as it made for nice continuity and a constant reminder that the land was almost damaged beyond repair, but it also got slightly monotonous and I found myself skimming some sections where the same words were used in abundance to describe Yukiko's surroundings. Secondly, the random switch of PoV was sometimes jarring. Some characters were give mere pages, and then their PoVs were never used again. It seemed like they were given the spotlight to make it easier to explain something, versus having Yukiko learn about it secondhand through someone else and at times, I found it to be a little lazy.
Those small issues aside, I loved everything else about Stormdancer. The Japanese culture was all-encompassing, infiltrating every character and every scene. I loved that it wasn't mentioned and then forgotten, but that it was quite often highlighted and used to explain various characters' motivations. Kristoff's obvious handle on their mannerisms and traditions was flawless. I also loved how seamlessly he infused steampunk elements into such a traditional culture. The ingenuity required to build the Guildsmans' machines, and the grace and elegance with which they functioned, speak to their Japanese heritage, and the mix of the old traditions with steampunk elements - like chainsaw katanas and chi-powered air ships - was fantastic.
Yukiko was a brillant protagonist. Her sullenness early on showed her young age, but it also made her accomplishments in Stormdancer that much greater. Her growth is astounding, yet subtle. It is only through time and experience that she begins to doubt everything she has been taught, that she begins to question those who would see her dead for even daring to think about questioning them. It is with the understanding that everything is not always as it seems where we see her learn to forgive. And it is with the knowledge of true sacrifice where we see her shine.
"Dying is easy. Anyone can throw themselves onto the pyre and rest a happy martyr. Enduring the suffering that comes with sacrifice is the real test."
Her relationship with Buruu is heartbreaking in its genuineness. Watching Buruu's gradual acceptance of his "monkey-child" turn into a relationship akin to siblings was an absolute privilege to read. Their ability to work as one was awe-inspiring to witness and the depth to which they felt each others joy or despair was tangible; I felt Yukiko's angst over Buruu's clipped wings, and I felt Buruu's fear for Yukiko's life when she was held at knife-point.
And I absolutely loved how Kristoff handled Stormdancer's romance, or lack thereof. Yukiko chides herself for dreaming of the boy with jade eyes when she should be focused on finding her missing friends. When she's reunited with this boy - Hiro - she feels guilt for enjoying their time together, when she could be planning on how to rescue her father. She never once let's her feelings for Hiro interfere with her plans, and when she realizes a hard truth, she doesn't lament over love lost. She takes the time to enjoy love when she can, but while it does help motivate some of her actions, it never becomes the thing that defines her.
Stormdancer has everything: a strong female protagonist, mythical beasts, Japanese Steampunk!, civil unrest, adventure, love, loss, betrayal. While I found it started off slow, it quickly picked up the pace and took me on a journey I won't soon forget! And let's be honest. I'm dying to get my hands on an arashitora, even if it's only a mechanical miniature.