Yukiko doesn't see herself the way her father does. Instead she carries the shadow of her mother and brother and the stink of lotus. For her, life must be filtered like the air she breathes through a cloth. She's aged by the harsh world she lives in, pressed between the thumb and finger of the emporer, Shogun Yoritomo and the futile task to hunt the extinct thunder tiger, an arashitora, for his vainglorious plan to conquer the world of Shima.
And, then there's the Kenning, the ability to speak to animals, a power the guild finds blasphemous and impure. All who have revealed such power have been summarily executed in the public square. While Yukiko struggles to be all that her father wasn't, she doesn't realize how much she's like her old man. She can't get away from his shadow, even if it reeks of sake and failure.
The journey north in a skyship not only reveals more of Yukiko's struggle with her father and his mistress, but a strange boy of mystery who only later reveals where he comes from. Meanwhile, Yukiko's dreams are troubled by another boy with sea-green eyes. Below, the lotus crops corrupt the land and all who live there, a cancer, oppressing everyone and everything.
Yukiko also faces her past in the dark and lonely hours aboard the skyship as they travel toward the mountains where the ronin dwell.
When Buruu is found and captured, it comes with a great cost, and Yukiko and her father are separated. Alone again, Yukiko is forced to make a difficult choice and bargain with the arishitora who could kill her as soon as look at her. An uneasy alliance is formed and a bond is kindled.
After the battle with a horde of blue oni demons, Yukiko must make a choice if she is ever to return to her father and find her own place in a dying world.
This was an incredible read, visceral, and true to the Asian culture I lived in for more than a year after college. I loved all of the plot twists and surprises along the way and tried to savor every word of Kristoff's densely imagined world. It is richly appointed and fully realized.
You will not only root for Yukiko, but for Buruu as well.
I highly recommend this book, and look forward to book 2 and 3. This is among my top 5 reads for 2012. If you haven't read it yet, get this book and read it. You'll be glad you did.