Kinslayer by Jay Kristoff
Genre: Adult Fantasy
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Release date: September 17 2013
Source: ARC from Publisher
In a word: A world destroyed and full of sorrow, epic and Wagnerian storytelling, with characters that rise above the pain, all written with beautiful prose that you will want to savor.
The wind was a lonely, howling voice between teeth of stone, a thread-bare wail singing of death and the hunger of wolves. In it, he could hear the voices of his dying brothers. In her eyes, he could see an ending. The ending of all things. And he was afraid.
Oh, readers. I am here to tell you that by the time I got to the end of Kinslayer, I was a very unattractive puddle of emotions. It was several hours before I could function, because being immersed in the world of The Lotus War took me far from everything that was familiar, safe and joyful. Everything in Kristoff’s world is razor-sharp and biting, slick with rain and smoke and blood. I had been warned that this was not an easy book to read. That Kristoff would be brutal and unforgiving when doling out pain. And both these things were true. So why did I love Kinslayer so much, you ask? Am I a masochist? Do I love watching beloved characters die? The truth is, Jay Kristoff is a brilliant writer. His words create a fantasy world unlike any I’ve ever read. His powers of description surpass those of just about every author I know. And his ability to shock his readers and throw us into a tailspin is epic. For the squeamish readers out there, Kinslayer might not be the right book for you. Kristoff drenches his story in blood, and violence abounds on just about every page. In fact, the last fifty pages were like watching the movie Kick Ass! There were so many highs and lows in this book, and I honestly never knew what was coming next.
*Please note: mild spoilers ahead if you haven’t read Stormdancer yet! Kinslayer picks up soon after the bloody climax of Stormdancer, when Yukiko killed the Shōgun Yoritomo. She and her best friend Buruu, a magnificent thunder tiger, have been flying to the different clan capitals, trying to get people to join the revolt against the Shōgun’s oppressive regime. But this is no easy task, as there are many factions that want to keep the lotus blooming, as the saying goes, and continue to grow the deadly blood lotus from which fuel is manufactured. But Yukiko has made a name for herself as the girl who killed the Shōgun, and many people are listening to her. Unfortunately, Yukiko’s unique gift of the “kenning,” the ability to communicate telepathically with animals, has suddenly gone haywire. Now she can hear every bird, insect and even humans, at a deafening volume that threatens to split her head in two.
Her friend Daichi, the leader of the Kagé rebellion, urges Yukiko and Buruu to journey to a monastery to ask for help from the Painted Brotherhood, monks who hold answers to life’s mysteries on their skin. But will they be able to get the answers they need and return in time to stop the wedding that could keep the people of Shima mired in the Shōgun’s treachery forever?
This is a huge story. And I don’t just mean in terms of page count. Kristoff writes big. (No, I didn’t say “Kristoff is big.” Although from what I understand, he is almost seven feet tall…) Kinslayer is epic. Reading it is like the literary version of watching a stage production of a Wagner opera. Not only are the characters larger than life (holding a Japanese katana sword or a big-ass chainsaw and swinging it at your enemy might help you with this visual), but the beloved Buruu the thunder tiger, a mythical-like creature who is part eagle, part tiger, is huge.
The other reason this story is huge is that the narrative alternates among four or five different groups of characters, and each group has their own story to tell. This method of storytelling can be risky, especially if the reader isn’t enjoying one of those narratives. I have to admit, Yukiko’s and Buruu’s story was still my favorite, and I did want to spend more time with them. But after a while, the other characters grew on me, and I can’t imagine this story without them. Lots of new characters are introduced, including a plucky girl named Hana and a “false-lifer” named Ayane, a girl encased in a mechanical skin with a spidery and deadly set of knives attached to her back. A few returning characters surprised me, like Michi, the Shōgun’s sister’s maidservant. Michi is a deceptively meek and lovely girl, but she has secretly joined forces with the rebellion, and especially after reading the end of Kinslayer, she is now one of my favorite characters.
Kristoff’s gorgeous writing makes Kinslayer feel operatic and elevates it far above many other books being published these days. If you can’t picture yourself in his world after reading his prose, then I’m sorry, but there is something wrong with you. Just take this passage, for example, when Yukiko is flying away from Shima on the back of Buruu:
Towering mountains beneath them, ancient and unchangeable. Making her feel like a brief and tiny thing: a spark escaping the rush of a twilight fire, speeding into the sky even as it burned away to nothing. Trees arrayed in gowns of bloody scarlet and shining gold, of bright rust and fading rose, like dancers awaiting the moment autumn’s music would falter. And then they would shed their finery in a flurry, sleep naked in winter’s arms, and wait for spring to wake them with warm and gentle kisses in all their softest places.
So many things happen in this story! I don’t want to spoil any of them for you, because the discovery is half the fun. But, you must read Stormdancer first, or I guarantee you will be lost. Surprises abound at the end of Kinslayer, which makes me sooo anxious to read the next book. If you are looking for an emotional and exciting reading experience, then look no further. To immerse yourself in Kristoff’s world is painful, but the emotional journey is worth every spilt drop of blood.
Many thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy. Quotes are taken from an advanced review copy and may differ in the final version of the book.
Kinslayer is available to purchase now! You can find it here: