Other reviewers might call Jay Kristoff's debut novel a fresh, imaginative take on the steampunk subgenre. Don't be fooled. In truth, Stormdancer boasts a fairly standard plot line: girl takes ill-advised journey on airship, girl meets angry Japanese griffin, girl tries to ride angry Japanese griffin off of sinking airship. Okay, that's pretty original.

In case it's not immediately obvious from the above plot summary, Stormdancer features a young, precocious girl and a flying eagle-tiger hybrid as its protagonists. By turns violent and endearing, their escapades through a Japanese-influenced steam society provoke laughter and tears on the order of any good girl-and-her-dog story. Think Lassie, if Kurosawa had been the director and Lassie had been three tons of angry mythical demon-shredding sass bent on pushing Timmy down the well. Okay, that's nothing like Lassie.

Kristoff's world-building doesn't pull any punches, either. The nation of Kigen's chief power source is a pollutant that has drained almost all of its natural resources and doubles as a cripplingly addictive opiate. The industrial revolution has left ecological and social devastation in its wake. Add a brutal caste system and a fuel-producing syndicate run by religious fanatics. Result: a terrifyingly plausible dystopia.

A colorful cast of supporting characters and thoughtful plotting add further to Stormdancer's appeal, but, really, Kristoff has the reader at "girl meets griffin." The captivating backdrop, graceful prose and army of mechanized samurai are all just added bonuses. --Katie Montgomery, book nerd

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