Review: The Lotus War Trilogy
I’m going to try something new after my experience writing a review of the Powder Mage Trilogy and try and review a series in its entirety instead of trying to copy the three novels independently. I think it’s a better way to fully encapsulate the series as a whole and makes it better to you the reader who doesn’t have to feel like they are reading the same thing three weeks in a row. As a byproduct this one might be a bit longer than usual. So here we go...The Lotus War Trilogy by Jay Kristoff.
So i think i got the suggestion to read the first novel in the series, Stormdancer, from Chris Kluwe on Twitter (follow him for excellent tweeting). He sung the praises of the story in the space of his 140 characters which was enough to send me off to goodreads to get more information, and oh! what I found.
The Lotus War is a grimdark series based in an alternate history Japan where the introduction of the mysterious Lotus plant allows for a huge leap in industrial and military technology. Though being a fantasy novel the tech takes the form of chainsaw katana, mech suited samurai, and a fleet of dirigible air ships. So...that’s like everything I want in all novels. What was missing in Huckleberry Finn and Moby Dick? I assure you the answer is always chainsaw katanas.
Of course this leads to a government with way too much power gained way too fast which leads to all the evil empire business you usually associate with such things. Oppressive economic and military activity. The Lotus tends to ruin the land that it’s grown in so the empire starts to literally eat itself in the production of their new super crop. It also burns thick, which chokes the air and the people. It also (listen I’m with you on this Lotus thing. It has a lot of negatives and I assure I’m only covering the big non-plot spoiling stuff) has some kind of narcotic derivative that has the personal and economic depressing effects that real world drugs have. Now add to that mess the last of the Thunder Tigers, Oni demons crawling out of the blood soaked earth, and a rebellion lead by ninjas from their forest stronghold.
It’s an impressive setting and one that’s rarely represented in the current fantasy markets. The trilogy of course doesn’t just spend its time setting up its world. The majority of the story focuses on a young woman of the Kitsune clan and her relationship with all the forces at work around her. Yukiko sometimes gets lost in all of the world building, especially in the second book, but the ultimate conclusion of her story and the world are entirely satisfying. The series is constant evolving her role and giving her opportunities to determine her own path and forge a way forward.
That doesn’t mean this is all ra-ra down with the empire. As I said in the beginning I think the series is entirely grimdark, though obviously the setting pulls it about through several other fantasy subgenres. Especially in the second and third books it seems like the author introduces characters, or at least gives them perspective chapters, just to prop them up long enough to kill them in the most terrible way possible. There’s no “on camera” sexual assault, which I often worry about having to read in the grimdark arena, but the implied action and near constant threat of it against certain characters, especially in book 2, drag down the series some and I’m sure makes for leaping off points for some readers.
In contrast, Kristoff proves to be a master of manipulating information. The balance of what characters know what and what the reader knows is made with incredible precision and execution throughout all three novels and creates for a really amazing conclusion in the third book that executes on things we thought we understood from all the way in the beginning of the first novel in a way that feels totally planned and not pasted on to the end.
In all the Lotus War is a great series for those that are familiar with grimdark, steampunk, and fantasy genres, and something I’d encourage anyone unfamiliar with those books to read. I do think the second book stumbles slightly, but the final payoff of book 3 makes the whole series time well spent. Four stars out of five.