Review: “Kinslayer (Lotus War #2)” by Jay Kristoff


15773979Title: “Kinslayer”

Author: Jay Kristoff

Genre: Alternate Universe/History, Steampunk, AWESOME

Publication Date: September 17, 2013 (SMP/Macmillan – North America)

Source: Publisher-provided ARC

Synopsis: A SHATTERED EMPIRE
The mad Shōgun Yoritomo has been assassinated by the Stormdancer Yukiko, and the threat of civil war looms over the Shima Imperium. The Lotus Guild conspires to renew the nation’s broken dynasty and crush the growing rebellion simultaneously – by endorsing a new Shōgun who desires nothing more than to see Yukiko dead.

A DARK LEGACY
Yukiko and the mighty thunder tiger Buruu have been cast in the role of heroes by the Kagé rebellion. But Yukiko herself is blinded by rage over her father’s death, and her ability to hear the thoughts of beasts is swelling beyond her power to control. Along with Buruu, Yukiko’s anchor is Kin, the rebel Guildsman who helped her escape from Yoritomo’s clutches. But Kin has his own secrets, and is haunted by visions of a future he’d rather die than see realized.

A GATHERING STORM
Kagé assassins lurk within the Shōgun’s palace, plotting to end the new dynasty before it begins. A waif from Kigen’s gutters begins a friendship that could undo the entire empire. A new enemy gathers its strength, readying to push the fracturing Shima imperium into a war it cannot hope to survive. And across raging oceans, amongst islands of black glass, Yukiko and Buruu will face foes no katana or talon can defeat.

The ghosts of a blood-stained past.

☆: 5/5 stars – an absolutely awesome follow-up to book one!

Review: Because this book was more or less just as awesome in terms of all of the technical aspects of writing when compared to book one, I’m going to instead focus this review on one very interesting theme that I found ongoing throughout this installment of the series, and there will be some speculation if some of the finer aspects of that theme were intentional or not on Kristoff’s part. That being said, it’s no surprise that the followup to “Stormdancer” was awesome, but it felt like Kristoff grew a great deal between both books, and it shows. We’re moving more and more into adult territory with not only what actually happens plot-wise with Yukiko and company, but with themes and the like. And it’s a lovely thing to behold. If you’ve read “Stormdancer” and liked it, you’re going to love “Kinslayer”.

This might be a bit difficult to discuss without letting slip some spoilers, but I’ll do my best. One big theme in this book that I found very, very interesting was one thing: that of birth. More specifically, everything that comes with it: conception, birth, and general growth. Some of the use of this theme is blatant or explicitly woven into the tale, but some of it lurks just beneath the surface, waiting to be mined by the reader for further examination. So, I’m going to examine that theme of birth, and how it cycles into the series so far, and where it might take us from here. Here comes a lot of meta, right at you.

Let’s start with birth itself. There’s one big instance that comes to mind: that of a certain eight-armed Guildsgirl Kin and Yukiko help rescue from a trap set by the Kage near their stronghold. This is a literal birth scene, and a brutal one at that (well, tbh, most of this book is gorgeously brutal, and definitely has a GRRM-style of book building/structure to it) – a girl, coming out of her leatherskin, literally being born out of it, face exposed for the first time, as well as her eight mechanical arms. She’s naive to all but everything the Guild has indoctrinated into her, and Kin wants to help her. She’s one of the many strong women/females we see specifically in this installment of the series – but also one that has the most transformation within her. When the audience learns about the female role within the Guild, they’ll recoil. Hard. I know I did. I won’t spoil how they tie into the Guild, but I will hint: if you’ve read Huxley’s “Brave New World”, think about how babies are born. That’s all I’ll say about it. But at the same time, this girl learns quickly, has suffered mightily, and had she not been rescued, would have continued suffering until she was deemed no longer useful. She tries to help those that would scorn and destroy her, and she becomes one of my favorite minor characters within the main cast.

Then there’s conception: two examples. One of which is so spoilery I can’t even talk about (hint: remember Yukiko and Hiro’s affair?), the other of which is Buruu basically losing his mind over finding an arashitora female in heat. Losing his mind so much that he forgets about Yukiko, their mission to find the Painted Brothers, and pretty much everything else but finding this female, finding the other male in the area so’s he can kill him and thus successfully mate with the female as the strongest male. It’s one of the biggest betrayals in the book in terms of the relationship between Yukiko and Buruu, as well as one of the biggest relationship betrayals period within the book. Whatever humanity he may have gained through Yukiko’s kenning ability with him gets absolutely obliterated by this frantic need to conceive new life within a dying species. At least, for the moment.

Finally, there’s growth as a whole for not only the entire main cast, but for the future of Shima, relations with its war-torn gaijin neighbors, and the general future of all involved within this newly-christened Lotus War. We see the Kage influence (like the ass-kicking No One) seeping slowly into what’s left of the Shogun’s seat of power, we see how the gaijin have become affected by the war with Shima, and we see just general development everywhere in terms of character relationships, plot advancement, and all that other good technical stuff. Not all is well within either faction of this Lotus War, and Kristoff really goes out of his way to show that, especially with these ideas surrounding birth/conception/growth and the females of the main cast.

So there’s the question: why this theme of birth? And why initially show it through the females of the main cast, only to have it spread throughout the story like the fire that helps consume what’s left of the Shogunate at the end of this installment of the series?

The answer I’ve come up with: With every ending (in this case, the end of the Yoritomo Shogunate at the end of book one), there’s a beginning. There’s a conception, birth, and growth of something that comes out of each ending. And with each beginning, there’s an ending – growth ultimately leads to aging, which leads to decay, which leads to death. A never-ending cycle. I think this is what Kristoff really wanted to show within his story as a whole – whenever something ends, another something begins. And sometimes it’s bad, sometimes it’s good. And sometimes, it just is – but all of it, at least, in the Lotus War Saga, is nearly all initiated by the females. Females conceive. They birth. And their children, be they physical children or just ideas, grow. And those children, be they physical or ideas, eventually die. The cycle begins again. And again. And again. And Kristoff shows this through every possible angle with very strong females on all sides of the equation. Could this be construed as a possibly sexist way of looking at things? Yes. But it’s also the way things happen in natural physical terms. Currently, only girls can give birth (though a lot of the time, we wish guys could know what we go through to do so).

Final verdict? All of my meta aside, this book is far darker, and far more frenetically paced than book one. You may want to brace yourself having that in mind. Regardless, it’s definitely one of my favorites of 2013, definitely in my top ten for the year. “Kinslayer” is out now from St. Martin’s Press/Macmillan in North America and the UK, so definitely go and check it out when you get the chance! Just prepare your feels, because they’re about to get trampled. And I can’t wait for that trampling to happen all over again with book three, whenever it may come out.

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