Book Review: Stormdancer

Stormdancer, by Jay Kristoff

A year or two ago, my friend and coworker asked if we could stop in at Chapters on our way back to work during our coffee break. He wanted to grab the sequel to a book he’d read. Of course, I agreed, and we set off for Chapters. He found his book, bought it, and explained what it was about. Two words and I was instantly intrigued: Japanese steampunk.

The book was Kinslayer, #2 in the Lotus War series by Jay Kristoff, and it was the sequel to Stormdancer. I later went back to the bookstore and bought Stormdancer for myself.

It sat on my bookshelf for about two years, while I made my way through my ever-growing collection of mostly steampunk books. After reading all of Cherie Priest’s Clockwork Century novels, all of Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series (not to mention Prudence), as well as Doktor Glass (Thomas Brennan), The Constantine Affliction (T Aaron Payton), Whitechapel Gods (S.M. Peters), and Bronze Gods (A.A. Aguirre), finally, I got around to reading Stormdancer.

My only regret is not reading it sooner

Arashitoras are supposed to be extinct. So when Yukiko and her warrior father Masaru are sent to capture one for the Shõgun, they fear that their lives are over – everyone knows what happens to those who fail the Lord of the Shima Isles.

I can’t say much else about the plot without spoilers. The book starts out a bit slow. To be fair, Jay Kristoff spends a lot of the first few chapters on setting up the world of Kigen and takes his time with it. It’s worth the wait.

Kigen is a world reminiscent of feudal Japan, but with chi-fueled technology – airships, mechanical samurai, and chainsaw-katanas. I guess you could say it’s not really steampunk (it’s chi-punk)…but that would be silly. It’s Japanese steampunk. And it’s awesome.

But when Yukiko and her father finally see the arashitora for the first time, that’s when book really picks up. It’s an incredible moment, just as powerful for the reader as it is for Yukiko. The arashitora is not only a magnificent mythological beast, but also one of the most interesting, fiercest, and most likable characters in the novel.

The book held my interest throughout the rest of the novel, with epic battles fought, political intrigue, a bit of romance, fantastical machines, and a climactic conclusion. The lead character had a ton of growth from beginning to end. As I read the few closing pages, it was hard to think of that angsty, obnoxious, emo teenage girl that graced the first few pages of the novel.

Definitely enjoyed Stormdancer, and would certainly add it to my list of favourites. Can’t wait to start reading Kinslayer!

Version Control for Writing

Using version control for writing

For my day job, I develop computer games. I’ve been doing that for about four years now. I’ve enjoyed a couple of different roles in the game industry, including sound designer and writer. For both of those roles, I’ve needed to understand and use version control software. So as I was giving some thought to a few problems I’ve been having with managing my writing – switching back and forth between different computers (laptop, desktop), losing track of which draft I’m on, and worrying about saving backups – I thought of applying version control software to writing.

Sure, github (and other version control software)’s intended use is for software developers – projects that are being developed by multiple developers – so it might seem a bit over the top to use for writing. On the other hand, github is surprisingly easy to use even just for very basic versioning, and it works like a charm. So, why not use it for writing?

Here’s how I’ve been using it

I’m not going to give you a full-on tutorial. I will walk you through some of the basics, though, and give you a brief overview of how I’ve been using github.

First, you’ll need to set up your account. You can do this by visiting and clicking the bright green “Sign up” button. Then just follow their instructions. Once you’re all set up, download the desktop software from here. Got it? Great. Install the software (obviously), and launch it.

Next up, create a repository for your writing. I’m using the Mac version of the software. The Windows version might look a little different.

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On the Mac, you just click the little + icon. Then you type the name for your repository, choose where you want it on your computer, and click “Create Repository.” This creates a folder on your computer at the location you chose. I called mine Dead London and stuck it on my desktop.

Then, after I saved my latest draft of Dead London in the folder, the files showed up under Uncommitted changes in github.

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I typed in a summary and description of my changes (“Added latest draft of Dead London”) and clicked Commit and Sync master.

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I then downloaded the github application on my laptop. Then I cloned the Dead London repository (File>Clone Repository). Then, after I finished working on my laptop, I committed and synced my changes in github.

Back on my desktop, all I had to do was sync, and I now had all the latest changes from my laptop. And I also had a backup on the cloud, plus a history of my changes.

Past Lives

I don’t really believe in reincarnation.

Much as I am taken in by the romantic concept of reincarnation, I don’t really believe in it. It’s a nice idea, to think that we might have had past lives, that we might live on in some way after we’re gone, and I can easily imagine myself in some distant path, in another body but with the same soul. Sure, I like the idea, but do I truly believe? No, certainly not.

But then, earlier this year, I took a trip to London. I wanted to carry out a bit of research for the novel I’m working on (Dead London), and I also just needed to get away for a little while. I had been to London before, as a child, but surely that wasn’t the only reason that my trip to London felt more like a homecoming than a vacation. I felt a strange kinship with the city, the sense that I somehow belonged there. It was difficult to leave; I began forming plans to relocate, even while I was still there, and I gave it serious consideration when I returned to Vancouver. Later, when I looked at photos from my trip, I felt not merely sadness for my trip being over, but actual homesickness. I had never felt homesickness before – so why was I feeling that for a city that I had merely visited? Was it possible that in some distant past, London truly was the place I called home?

Perhaps, not so distant a past…

When I think of London, a city with a long history, I can’t help but associate it with a particular time period. Perhaps it’s just that I’ve watched too many movies or read too many books, but I tend to picture the city lit by gaslight. I think of Jack the Ripper stalking the streets, of Dickensian orphans working in factories or as chimney sweeps. I think of a city filled with fog and smoke. I think of gentlemen and ladies attending the opera or the ball, while the poor die of consumption. with slums and tenements only blocks away from the wealthy elite. I think of opium dens and absinthe. I think of Victorian London.

If I truly did have a past life, maybe it wasn’t so long ago. For all that it seems like the distant past, given how rapidly technology has changed in the past century or two, the Victorian era isn’t really that far in our past. Not, when you consider the long life that London has had. So, if I did happen to believe in reincarnation, I might be swept away by the notion that a past version of me once walked the streets of Victorian London. Perhaps he – or she, for that matter – once looked into the face of Jack the Ripper. He might have been a famous artist, or a humble factory worker, or an inmate at Newgate Prison, destined only for the hangman’s noose.

Perhaps that’s why I felt such a connection with London. Or maybe, just maybe, there’s a simpler explanation. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been writing and researching Dead London for several years now, and it’s become so ingrained in my imagination that it has begun to feel like home. One of the many curses of being a writer, after all, is that our characters can at times feel more real or more important to us than real people. A city like London is quite the character.