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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.
Stormdancer

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Remember, kids. Don't endanger forests and animals. Or this girl will kill you. And eat your soul.
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A fantasy trilogy by Jay Kristoff, the first novel Stormdancer was released in 2012.

A feudal steampunk Japan. The Shima Islands have gone to the dogs. Toxic fuel is wrecking the environment, a religious group called The Lotus Guild is executing those they deem "impure," and the place is ruled by a selfish, power-hungry shogun. He sends two warriors out to capture a thunder tiger (A.K.A. a griffin) for him. One is Masaru, the shogun's chief hunt master, and the other is Yukiko, Masaru's daughter and the heroine of the story. As far as Masaru and Yukiko are concerned, they've been banished, as Griffins are supposedly extinct, thanks to the copious pollution. But no matter how impossible the task given, if you fail it, the shogun will execute you. Suddenly, though, Yukiko ended up separated from her dad and wandered alone in the wilderness. Then, she saved the life of a griffin named Buruu in need of her help, since its wings were broken and it was unable to fly.

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Meanwhile, Masaru is accused of treason and imprisoned, and Yukiko has to rescue him. But unfortunately, she's in for a hard, dangerous road. Although she rescued Buruu, he feels a deep contempt for her, making it hard for them to work as a team. Making matters worse, her ability to telepathically speak with animals puts her on the Lotus Guild's most wanted list. To save her father, as well as take down the shogun and the Lotus Guild, she must gain Buruu's trust and enlist the aid of several allies, in order to save her homeland from chaos and corruption.

The second novel Kinslayer was released in 2013, and the final novel Endsinger was released in 2014. Additionally, two free prequels (Praying for Rain and The Last Stormdancer) were released digitally detailing events that occurred earlier in the land of Shima.

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Provides examples of:

  • Action Girl: Yukiko and Michi in Stormdancer, joined by Hana in Endsinger when she becomes a stormdancer herself.
  • Aluminum Christmas Trees: The morchebans run their devices by way of bottled lightning. Such devices actually exist-they're called Leyden jars; although the real version would probably explode if one tried to recharge it by funnelling a lightning bolt into it.
  • Ancient Conspiracy: the Lotus Guild is revealed to be this in Endsinger. For the two hundred years of the Shogunate's existence, the Guild has been deliberately and actively working to poison the land with the blood lotus, all to awaken their sleeping patron goddess—Izanami.
  • Anyone Can Die: It's easier to name the major characters who live than those who die.
  • Body Horror: Guild cybernetics are considered this by everyone else.
    • The Painted Brotherhood are a cult of Revenant Zombies who demand payment in the form of some skin in exchange for using their library. The brothers themselves have no more-they flensed themselves alive and turned their skins into parchment.
  • Book-Ends: Kinslayer both starts and ends with Yukiko destroying Guild Zepplins to aide an ally's escape, furthered by the mention of the nickname "The Girl all Guildsmen Fear"
    • Stormdancer and Endsinger's final chapter are each written from the perspective of Sumiko, a bystander to the events of the series.
  • Brother–Sister Incest: The Shogun has the hots for his sister.
  • Burn the Witch!
  • The Berserker: The Morchebans have Blood-blessed who have superhuman fury. In a nod to the old Norse berserks, they even wear animal skins.
  • The Caligula: The Shogun is not a nice person. Nor is he a sane one. He's also a rapist, he brutally abuses even the women who have consensual sex with him, and he had ordered Yukiko's mother to be executed just for politely asking to release her husband from duty as the royal huntmaster.
  • Captain Ersatz: Guildsmen are basically Techpreists.
  • Chainsaw Katanas Are Just Better: You never thought it would be possible, did you?
  • Cool Airship: The Pheonix Clan have a massive one as their castle. It is said that the Daimyos don't even leave it for all they need is upon the ship.
  • Corpse Land: Deadlands, which are ash-choked wounds on the terrain that vent a Deadly Gas that is evidently what passes for "air" in hell.
  • Crapsack World: The Shima Islands with those religous Lotus loonys, the overflowing pollution, and a selfish shogun.
    • Simply becomes more crapsack over the course of the trilogy, as civil war descends upon the islands.
  • Culture Chop Suey: The Morchebans seem a blend of Norse and Russian, given that they're stereotyped as blue eyed, blonde haired berserkers wearing furs; while having names like Piotr and Aleksandar, and Mad Scientists who build all sorts of ramshackle goodies that run on bottled lightning. Their language is also Russian.
  • Cycle of Revenge: A central theme of Endsinger. Kaori learns to set aside her mindless hate for the Guildsmen. Yoshi comes to realize how pointless vengeance is after avenging the murder of his lover Jurou by the Yakuza, when it just means someone will seek vengeance on him in time. And at the climax, when Izanami is rising, this allows the survivors of the civil war to band together once and for all.
  • Deconstruction: Steampunk tech would ruin the environment. Guess what's happened?
  • Deus Exit Machina: Both Kinslayer and Endsinger do this with Yukiko who, by Endsinger, is able to waltz into a crowd of people and kill them with a glance.
  • Disc-One Final Boss: The Shogun Yoritomo. Although he instigates the plot in Stormdancer, his villainy ultimately leads to his demise at the end of the book. The Lotus Guild subsequently takes up the role of the Big Bad for the rest of the trilogy.
  • Distant Finale: The epilogue of Endsinger is set ten years after the Hellgate is closed.
  • Divine Right of Kings: As far as the Shin are concerned, defying the Emperor is practically blasphemy, despite the fact that he is a murdering, raping Caligula who is killing the entire planet with pointless wars powered by an evil plant that causes horrific pollution. The captain of the Emperor's guard is a kind and generous man who becomes the Big Bad because he hates Yukio for fighting against the Emperor—even though the Emperor killed her mother for politely asking for her husband to be allowed to retire.
  • Double Reverse Quadruple Agent: Kin ends up as a mild version of this. He leaves the Guild in Stormdancer, only to go back to them in Kinslayer for the Kage's mistreatment of Ayane, dragging the leader of the rebellion Daichi with him. But it's revealed in Endsinger that this was planned between the Daichi and Kin, to get the latter in a position to infiltrate the Earthcrusher and destroy it from within.
  • Drop the Hammer: In melee, this is the weapon that the Morchebans like best - an electrically-charged lightning hammer with backpack charger. The lightning hammer is extremely effective against Iron Samurai, even on attacks where the hammer fails to damage the armour, the powerful electric currents will disrupt the Iron Samurai's power armour causing it to seize up.
  • Enemy Civil War: after Aisha's death in Kinslayer, the political situation in Shima degenerates into this, with the Kitsune clan standing apart from the Tora Clan. Yukiko and the rebels make the most of this, snapping up the Kitsune as allies.
  • Enemy Mine: the climax of Endsinger—when the oni are unleashed and Izanami awakened, Yukiko and the rebels are joined by both the surviving Tora loyalists and and a contingent of the Morcheban gaijin in repelling the demons until the hellgate can be closed.
  • Exact Words: One of Yokai blood has to charge into a Hellgate to close it, not inside it. IE; smash themselves to pulp on the side of it.
  • Eye Scream: happens to Hana. Her brother Yoshi had been stealing large sums of money from the local yakuza and the yakuza discover her brother's lover. After torturing him, the yaks learn about Hana, her bro and their ability to control animals. Taking care to kill any animals that can act as a sentry, the siblings are captured by the yaks. The head of them, a man known as the Gentleman, then casually plucks out Hana's uncovered eye with a set of pliers as an intro to what's going to happen to Yoshi. Luckily Akahito arrives.
  • Fantastic Drug: Blood Lotus tea and smokes. It kinda gives the impression that almost everybody's on weed to distract themselves from how shit things are.
    • Morchebans smoke something that smells like honey and cinnamon.
  • Fantastic Racism: The Kage are completely unable to see the person behind the Guild skin. Even Yukiko falls victim of this towards Ayane.
    • The Guild seek the death of all Yokai-kan - psychics who commune with animals - who they call impure based upon their religious scripture. There is some hint that this is in response to a prophecy regarding Yukiko.
  • Fantasy Gun Control: Totally averted, it's set in a somewhat low-magic world (low in terms of rarity, magic that shows up is really quite powerful) but there are plenty of guns and the guns in the Lotus War are actually far more lethal than their historical real-life counterparts during this time period (the author stated that the Lotus War was in the medieval period). They include multi-shot fuel-air guns 'iron shooter' (including larger ones that can fire spears rapidly), machine gun-like shuriken throwers, and the gaijin have guns that fire lightning bolts.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: Shima Islands are Japan.
  • Fire and Brimstone Hell: Inverted, Yomi is freezing and dark.
  • Forever War: The newscasts constantly announce that final victory over the gaijan barbarians is at hand. They've been saying that for twenty years.
  • Gaia's Lament: The sky is red, the rain is black (and acidic), ever-growing amounts of land are too poisoned by Blood Lotus to grow anything, and most animal species have been driven to extinction by pollution or killed to fertilize the Lotus fields
  • Gambit Pileup: Starts at the beginning of book two and doesn't stop until most of the players are dead around two-thirds of the way through the third book.
  • Gaslamp Fantasy: Steam/Electro Punk meets Japanese Mythology.
  • Giant Enemy Crab: the Earthcrusher, which is a massive Spider Tank with chainsaw sickles as it's main armament.
    • "Shreddermen" suits used to clear forests for farmland are a mini version of this, being ten feet tall.
  • Gender-Restricted Ability: Both sexes can have the Kenning, but the goodies that come with it are gender restricted. Females get Glowing Eyes of Doom and nebulous, different-for-everyone Combo Platter Powers after a ritual; males don't have theirs described, but it's probably the Blood Blessed's Unstoppable Rage.
  • Government Drug Enforcement: Lotus is smoked recreationally and available cheaply thanks to Guild subsidies. The smoke from the chi extract used in engines has a similar effect.
  • Green Aesop: Pollution for the sake of industry and technology is a huge part of the story.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Again and again and again
    • Masaru takes the bullet for his daughter
    • Buruu and Yoshi give their lives to close the Hell Gate - denying Yukiko the opportunity
    • Kin decides to remain behind in the Earthcrusher to keep it from detonating prematurely. Averted as he survives
    • Hiro rams his airship into a massive Oni
      • Before him, the Katsuni Daimyo tried the same trick on the Earthcrusher. It was not as successful
  • Honor Before Reason: Several samurai characters take this approach to Bushido. Becomes a growing point of contention throughout Endsinger, mainly divided along gender lines.
    • Also Subverted in the case of Hiro. Despite his claims, it is not honor that drives him
  • Humongous Mecha: The Earthcrusher, the secret weapon of the Guild designed to smash the rebellion once and for all.
  • Lightning Gun: The weapon of choice for the gaijin, they're powerful enough to knockout a thunder-tiger if it's grounded. Having tech like this is one of the reasons why the gaijin can hold out so long against the Shima.
  • Literary Agent Hypothesis: Michi (and later Akihito and Captain Blackbird) write the books in-universe.
  • Make Me Wanna Shout: Buruu's cry when he wakes up in a cage is enough to burst eardrums.
  • The Man Behind the Man: Or goddess, rather. Izanamai has backed the Lotus Guild since its inception, all to destroy Shima and overrun the world with oni.
  • Meaningful Name: "Yukiko" is Japanese for "Rare Child," and this could be attributed to her rare ability to telepathically communicate with animals.
  • Mega-Corp, by way of Cult: The Lotus Guild.
  • Men Are the Expendable Gender: Averted for the most part but Yoshi and Buruu refuse to let the women amongst the Stormdancer pairs be the ones to sacrifice their lives to close the Hell Gate.
  • Mercy Kill: Aisha begs for one, as she's essentially dead from the neck down, dependent on Guild machinery to survive.
  • The Mole: For all her Woobie status, Ayane is revealed to be this in Endsinger, sent deliberately by the Guild to spy upon the Kage and turn Kin back to the Guild. Unofrtunately, Humanity Is Infectious, and her time outside the Guild fills her with "impure" thoughts like wanting to be free and desiring actual human contact. She's subsequently murdered by The Inquisition.
  • More Dakka: Shuriken throwers are basically shuriken shooting machine guns. Even when they're not hooked up to chi-fuel motors, they can blaze enough high velocity shurikens to rip apart 12-feet tall, densely muscled oni.
  • Multipurpose Monocultured Crop: Blood Lotus. Medicine from its sap, tea and cigarettes from it's leaves, rope and canvas from it's stems, and fuel from its seeds. Subverted in that its absolutely horrible for both people and the environment.
    • It's also implied to literally come from Yomi
  • No More for Me: Minister Hoshi decides he's smoked enough lotus for one day when the Shogun tells him he wants a gryphon.
  • Obviously Evil: WHAT'S THIS? The red plant that requires the blood of mammals to keep it from ruining soil and has inflicted untold, virtually irreparable damage on the environment is evil? You don't say.
  • Offscreen Villainy: The Shogun from the first book is more or less established as a serial rapist through repeated mentions of off-page incidents.
  • Our Gryphons Are Different: Called Arashitora or thunder tigers; half-tiger instead of half-lion and possessing electrical powers.
  • Our Zombies Are Different:
    • Painted Brothers are skinless Revenant Zombies who did it to themselves by mucking around with Black Magic
    • Construct Zombies show up when the Hellgate opens; and can be anything from mountains of moving corpses to skinless giants to Frankensteins Monsters stitched together from dead birds.
  • Powered by a Forsaken Child / Empire with a Dark Secret: The Blood Lotus that powers all the technology in use is an addictive narcotic when burned and inflicts massive environmental devastation that the Shogunate and Lotus Guild are unsuccessfully covering up. More successfully, they hid that it's called Blood Lotus because keeping it from ruining soil requires the blood of mammals. Now that they're out of wildlife, they're using prisoners of war
  • Polluted Wasteland: See Gaia's Lament.
    • Taken Up to Eleven with the Stain, where the ground seeps a noxious black cloud that can't be filtered and will kill anyone who walks through it within days.
  • Poor Communication Kills: Yukiko has been captured by gaijin and tied to a chair. One of them, Piotr, later lumbers into the room half-drunk and keeps saying in poor Shima, "Want...body." Hearing this Yukiko thinks she's about to be raped, so she kicks his ass once he removes some of her bonds. A gaijin boy tells her to come with him and she thinks it's a rescue by someone sympathetic to her plight. Instead it turns out that he was using her as bait to lure out one of the thunder tigers in the area, so he can zap it and skin it for its hide. After he finishes that he overpowers Yukiko and was about to slit her throat, when Piotr impales the slimey little bastard. It turns out that Piotr didn't want Yukiko's body, what he meant was that his comrades wanted a body of a thunder-tiger and he was going to free her before they can use her as bait.
    • Happens again in Endsinger. Piotr tries to advise about Hana's Virgin Power but nobody understands him. This information could've also been useful from *any* Morcheban. Hana doesn't learn about it until it's already too late.... and Katya takes Akahito's blood in repayment
  • Power Armor: The Iron Samurai take their name from their steampunk power armor. The Lotus Guild wears their own version constantly, calling it skin. Guild armor has all sorts of advanced gear like jetpacks and radios built in, integrated life support, and weapons capable of killing groups of Iron Samurai, as well as being tough enough to withstand chainkatanas
  • Prophecy Twist: Every Guildsmen is exposed to Lotus as part of their initation, each receiving vision of their What Will Be. Kin's is rather specific: he will become First Bloom and assume control of the Guild, despite all his attempts to rebel against it. In Endsinger, this finally comes to pass—and he uses his authority to disband the Guild once and for all and break their hold over Shima.
  • Psychic Powers: The most prominent type of magic in this world, its most common use is for mentally linking with animals but it can also be used to read and obliterate minds.
  • Psychic Nosebleed: Mind powers in the Lotus War can be very taxing when they're used more than psychic links, one common sign that someone is making heavy use of their power is a bleeding nose and head-aches. Yukiko gets these alot as she fights almost as much with her psi as her blades
  • "Reason You Suck" Speech: Yukiko absolutely demolishes Hiro at the end of Endslinger, calling him out on the fact that he's only interested in petty revenge and declaring him unworthy of being known by his children.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: The main villain of the first book has this as a defining trait.
  • Red Right Hand: Replace "Hand" with "Eye" and you've got the Morcheban Zryachniye's (witch-priestess) Mark of the Supernatural. One of their eyes glow pink.
  • Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves: Poor Ayane. Instructed to go and bring back Kin even though they knew she would eventually succumb to temptation
    Ayane: What did you think I would do?
    Inquisitor: This. Just this.
  • Shock and Awe: Morcheban weaponry runs on bottled lightning. Their standard-issue weapons are a Lightning Gun pistol and an electrified sword; if one is command-tier, they get an electrified war-hammer instead.
  • Shout-Out: The Lotus must bloom
  • Space Whale Aesop: The attempted critique of industrialization is somewhat undermined by the fact that the fantastic plant used to fuel it is both Obviously Evil and not really analogous to any real-world energy source.
    • The series moves away from this by Endsinger, when it is revealed the blood lotus is a scheme perpetrated by Izanami to destroy the world. Further, the technology used by the Gaijin which can match Lotus-fueled tech does not appear to have the same consequences.
  • Speaks Fluent Animal: Yukiko. People with this ability are hunted down and ritualistically executed by the Guild (See burn the witch).
  • Steam Punk: Shows in the technology and the prevalent gas-mask and goggle attire that is necessary for survival. The Lotus War is unusually a lot more punk than steam and often holds a jaundiced eye towards technology, cozy colonisation, the beautiful elite, and the romanticizing of honor and self-sacrifice.
  • Succession Crisis: The Last Stormdancer centers around a civil war between the twin sons of the recently deceased Shogun, known as the Bull and the Bear. The titular Stormdancer turns the tide of battle in favor of the Bull, but it is the Bear who wins the duel between the two commanders, which is why the Guild is able to rise in power.
  • Tank Goodness: Subverted, most of the Morcheban tanks (called "siege crawlers") suffer catastrophic failure just in sight of their first sortie.
  • Took a Level in Jerkass: Isao and his friends seem like horny but harmless teenagers. When they're first introduced in Stormdancer they peep on Yukiko while she was bathing. By the second book, Isao and his clique betray the Kage when they sabotage the heavy shuriken throwers during the battle with the oni - just so they can make Kin look bad. They later gangrape Ayane... At least, that is what we are initially led to think; the truth is that Ayane both sabotage Kin's Shuriken throwers and mutilated herself to make it look like she was assaulted. In truth, they were in on Kin and Daichi's plan.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: the back cover gives away that the Impossible Task the Shogun sends Yukiko and her family on just barely succeeds. Although, since this makes up the first third of the book, it also counts as First-Episode Spoiler.
  • Tastes Like Feet: Lotusmen nutrient paste smells like boiled cabbage, and given their disdain for their meat-parts, probably tastes like it too.
  • The Gods Must Be Lazy: While the Shimans have many gods, there's only one particular deity that's active all (unless you consider Raijin who created the Thunder Tigers ages ago).
    • Buruu suggests that the other Gods might be quietly influencing events, pointing out the odd coincidences that have led to their success. There is also the oddity of Kin's Prophecy Twist and the destruction of First House that none of the Guild predicted but ended up being their undoing.
  • Those Magnificent Flying Machines: Morcheban "rotor-thopters", which are ramshackle helicopters that look like "lopsided dragonflies".
  • The Undead: The Painted Brotherhood.
    • Hungry Dead and monsters cobbled together out of corpses show up as part of The Legions of Hell.
  • Unstoppable Rage: The Blood-blessed are berserkers with this power. With it a Blood-blessed is easily capable of killing an Iron Samurai. Aleksandr reminisces about being in a battle where 4 Blood-blessed slaughter 50 Shiman warriors.
  • Vader Breath: Given the prevalence of gas masks in the setting, too many to count are described as "breath hissing though filter pipes". Lotusmen are described as having a "sawing" quality to theirs.
  • Virgin Power: The 'Touched' of the Morcheban must remain pure to retain their powers. It might have been a good idea to make certain that Hana understood that before they tried activating her powers. If they had, she might not have had a fling the night before.
  • Wretched Hive: Kigen city is the densely populated capital where the poor die in the streets from lung cancer or drowning in their own polluted phlegm, powered armour inquisitors go around burning people in public executions, eating cats is a luxury because there is no other meat around and the Shogun has a taste for raping any pretty girl he fancies.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: Doesn't mean there won't be a Prophecy Twist; because while *you* can't fight fate, the gods can.
  • Zeppelins from Another World: Sky-ships which come in several classes but Corvette (small and fast) and Ironclad (large and heavy) seem to be the mainstay
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