by Jay Kristoff
Hardcover, 432 pg.
Thomas Dunne Books, 2013
Read: Dec. 6-13, 2013
It’s a law that the second part of a trilogy is going to be darker in tone than the rest and will leave things in a precarious position. The mark of a really good second part of a trilogy is that even as you expect that, the tone and direness of the events affect you as they ought, and don’t just seem as ways to advance the overall story arcs to get through the third installment.
Kristoff’s Kinslayer delivered on that. And then some — I’m not sure where I expected/wanted things to go following the calamitous events at the close of Stormdancer — obviously there’d be fighting between the Guild, the Kagé rebellion, and various groups trying to fill the void left by the death of Yoritomo. And, of course, Buruu and Yukiko would be smack dab in the middle of it. Beyond that, I really had no idea.
Which is fine and dandy, because I was pretty wrong — yes, there’s conflict between the Kagé, the Lotus Guild and various Shōgun, but not all-out warfare (mostly). And for the bulk of the novel, Yukiko and Buruu aren’t directly involved in that story — they are off on an important quest on their own, their storylines intersect with the rest at the beginning and end of the novels (like Luke and R2 off to Dagobah in another noted second part of a trilogy).
Don’t get me wrong — it’s not all doom and gloom. There are more than a few chuckles, some fun times to be read here. Early on in the book, I wrote the note, “the conversations between Yukiko and Buruu are fantastic — the playfulness, the teasing, the love — it’s like Temeraire with snark.” But then things started to turn — in the capitol, in the Kagé wilderness and even with the thunder tiger and his stormdancer. Yukiko is having trouble controlling her powers, there’s division in the rebellion’s ranks, and it seems that nobody in the capitol is telling the truth to anyone about anything. Betrayal courses through this novel. It’s raw and powerful.
What makes all the betrayal effective isn’t how it moves the plots forward, but because with established and new characters, Kristoff has created characters you can believe, characters you can empathize with, identify with, care about — no matter their allegiance in the conflicts. So that when plans go awry, trust is broken, loved ones abandoned (or worse), it matters to the audience.
True to form, things are bleak — if not worse — as the novel closes, but Kristoff has set the stage for something very exciting, and many things that I’m not even going to pretend to predict. Can’t wait for what’s next.
Lastly, I am indebted to Kristoff for the Character Reference pages at the beginning and wish that more serial fiction people did something like that — an easy way to re-orient yourself in this strange world. If only there was a pronunciation guide, too. But now I’m getting greedy.