Kinslayer - Jay Kristoff


by Jay Kristoff
Book 2 of The Lotus War trilogy

**Because this is the second book in the series, there will likely be some information in this review that will give away pertinent information in the first book.  Continue at your own risk, or skip this review until you've read both books.



The mad Shōgun Yoritomo has been assassinated by the Stormdancer Yukiko, and the threat of civil war looms over the Shima Imperium.  The Lotus Guild conspires to renew the nation’s broken dynasty and crush the growing rebellion simultaneously – by endorsing a new Shōgun who desires nothing more than to see Yukiko dead.

Yukiko and the mighty thunder tiger Buruu have been cast in the role of heroes by the Kagé rebellion.  But Yukiko herself is blinded by rage over her father’s death, and her ability to hear the thoughts of beasts is swelling beyond her power to control.  Along with Buruu, Yukiko’s anchor is Kin, the rebel Guildsman who helped her escape from Yoritomo’s clutches.  But Kin has his own secrets, and is haunted by visions of a future he’d rather die than see realized.

Kagé assassins lurk within the Shōgun’s palace, plotting to end the new dynasty before it begins.  A waif from Kigen’s gutters begins a friendship that could undo the entire empire.  A new enemy gathers its strength, readying to push the fracturing Shima imperium into a war it cannot hope to survive.  And across raging oceans, amongst islands of black glass, Yukiko and Buruu will face foes no katana or talon can defeat.

The ghosts of a blood-stained past.

One of the things that came to mind while I was thinking about how to write my review of Kinslayer had to do with the love story in The Lotus War trilogy.  It had never really occurred to me to think of the triangle between Yukiko, Kin, and Hiro as a triangle at all, if only because it never really occurred to me that the word love was even being tossed around.  But one of the conflicts in this trilogy, as seen in Kinslayer, centered on the betrayal by a loved one.

And it hadn't been until nearing the ending of this book that any mention of love was brought up.  Now, this wasn't just the brotherly love or the friendship type of love, but I'm of the impression that this was a romantic love that both Hiro and Yukiko claimed had been each other's downfall.

As I understand it, between the three of them, Yukiko, Kin, and Hiro all feel as if they'd been betrayed by the person they love.  Well, we already saw that Kin felt betrayed by the end of the first book, Stormdancer, when he found out about Yukiko and Hiro; although why that is, I'm not certain.  And now in this second book, Yukiko and Hiro are both throwing around extreme emotions due to being betrayed by the one they loved.

Except that, throughout Stormdancer, I never actually got the impression that ANYONE was in love with ANYONE...  If anything, Kin's love for Yukiko felt like a crush; Yukiko's feelings toward Kin felt more like a friendship type.  As for the relationship between Yukiko and Hiro, I had always been under the impression that the two of them were just in lust with each other, with maybe a spattering of a crush--what they had never felt like love, nor was that word even used at any point.

Which then brought me to the realization, now, that there had to have been insta-love of the typical YA variety in that first Lotus War book--I just never really saw it.

But all of that is moot in the face of all the other depressing twists and developments that come out of Kinslayer.  As I'd stated earlier in my pre-review thoughts, this entire book felt like a long, drawn-out hot mess--having taken some time to think on the book, my feelings have not changed.

To be honest, the book started out quite promising.  Here, we have Yukiko, after the events of Stormdancer, with a big problem when her kenning abilities seem to have lost control of themselves.  She's hearing too many voices (animal and human alike) and is unable to block them out; it gets to the point where she's becoming a danger to life around her and to herself, because this effect causes her headaches, but also causes pain to the animals around.  In effect, rather than becoming the great hero that everyone is looking at to save the lands, Yukiko has become a pitiful, drunken mess, mirroring what her father had become, what she had despised so much about him throughout the first book.  Because in order to drown out all the noises of the kenning, Yukiko has taken up losing her mind in drink.

Along the way, we have Kin who has given up everything he ever knew in life to join the rebellion, to join Yukiko in her cause.  And now he's being hunted by the Guild, with nowhere else to go.  And at the same time, he's now living amidst a bunch of hypocritical rebels who claim to be fighting for the greater good, but can't seem to see anything outside of their prejudiced hate.  They hate the Guild, erego, they hate Kin--no matter what he sacrificed to help Yukiko, and no matter that he's turned his back on the Guild and the Shogunate, they just hate him.

One of the things that bugged me the most about the Kagé's hate for Kin is that they hate what he used to be--and that's it.  Except that, if it's the fact that he used to be a Guildsman that is so wrong, I don't see how the Kagé can like anyone at all.  As Kin had said to the Kagé leader, "everyone used to be someone else," and so why can't Kin also be someone who used to be someone else?  Daichi is the Kagé leader who used to kill for the Shogun before he finally chose to walked away.  Lady Aisha is the Shogun's own sister by blood until she chose to help the rebels.

The Kagé are able to cast aside the identities of these two and consider them trusted allies, in spite of the fact that they were part of the enemy who watched the lands suffer and innocent people die.  It also doesn't seem to matter to the Kagé when their own actions cause innocent people to die--the means to an end.

It just feels like there was no real logic to why the Kagé hated certain people.  They were ready to kill Yukiko in the first book because of a tattoo... but now she's the symbolic leading light of their rebellion.

I guess I just don't really understand the logic of their hatred for Kin, or even Ayane, when they can trust Lady Aisha or any others who also used to be part of the enemy team.  I mean, the Guildsmen are born into their roles, so it's not like they had much of a choice in what they wanted to do with their lives.


Meanwhile, the entire kingdom is falling apart... well, more so than it already has, after the death of the Shogun.

And that's when we get introduced to multiple other lines of story, all seeming to be heading on the same path, destined to converge at some point.  Except, even as we follow all of these side tangents and separate POVs, we're not entirely sure what significance they all hold.  Okay, I'm not entirely sure what significance there was.  All the while, my own impression of the events in this book was a feeling of impatient frustration--because while there was a lot of activity, and while there were a lot of events, and while there felt like a lot was happening, I'm not entirely certain anything really DID happen outside of revealing several more convoluted plot twists and exercising Murphy's Law.

Anything that was bad that COULD happen, DID happen.  There was so much hate and betrayal and espionage and chaos and death and bloody gore that I'm surprised the book didn't implode upon itself.  It almost felt as if each scene and each new development was carefully structured in attempt to wring as much FEELS from the reader as humanly possible; every possible worst case scenario was thought of and the utmost worst of the worst was chosen for the final draft.

And for most readers, maybe it worked.  There's certainly a lot to think about in this book.  I, personally, just started feeling quite exhausted.  And that's not simply because nothing was really getting accomplished.  People were also making poor decisions, and no one was thinking of the bigger picture nor could they see past their hate.

Some Final Thoughts:
Jay Kristoff is really a great writer.  His prose is smooth and I don't deny the creativity of the characters and the world he created.  I mean, after listening to the audio book of Stormdancer, I realized that I loved the book in spite of many quibbles and frustrating factors that I would have condemned many other books for.  Which is why I had no qualms about finally jumping into finish the rest of the Lotus War trilogy.

But Kinslayer turned out little different than Stormdancer, but in a different way, and I'm not sure that the things I didn't like about Stormdancer were improved upon.  To be totally honest, while I found the entire ideal of girl and thunder tiger as partners in crime really intriguing, I never found much I liked about Yukiko--she's the typical Mary Sue of fiction who was created to be well-received and somewhat powerful and sexy and any other factor that can make people fall in love with her.  But she was a standard type of heroine with nothing actually outstanding to distinguish her from any other standard heroine.

I loved the new conflict inflicted upon her in Kinslayer, though... but I'm not sure I saw any development in her character because of it.  Instead, Yukiko seemed to have been detached from the main events of the story to go on a journey of her own wherein things happen, but nothing really gets resolved.  Her righteous, holier-than-thou attitude had been a bit of an annoyance to me in the first book; in this second book, nothing really changes.

I'm not sure where else to even point out what was going on in Kinslayer that didn't entirely work out for me--too many tangent story lines, too many dramatic events, too much gushy love between girl and arashitora... too many people making uninformed or dumb decisions based on their own gut feelings which are all biased, at best.

There were some things I DID like:

  • I liked the story line that involved Hana, even if I didn't quite understand the significance of her brother's connection story line with the yakuza, which felt more out of place than anything.
  • I also liked Michi... but I'm not entirely certain that particular line needed to be dragged on for so long.
  • I liked Kin's development.  But I also thought it was entirely predictable and clichéd, and it was one of those few conclusions of this bridging installment of the trilogy that anyone could see miles before the story even started.
  • I wish we could have seen more of Akihito and the Kagé group in the city--they seemed to be doing more than the rebels hiding in the mountains managed to accomplish.
  • I liked the inclusion of other legendary monsters, more arashitora... but I did not like how the events were executed.  I mean, WTF, Buruu?

Final Final Thoughts:
I'm going to finish reading the trilogy if only because I want to know how everything ends.  I want to know if the world WILL eventually implode.  I want to know if the entire ordeal that was Kinslayer was worth all the effort.  I want to see if my thoughts about Kin are correct and whether or not the progression of Lotus War will surprise me in the end.  And I'm also curious to see what other dramatic, new surprise twists might be in store for the concluding installment.  

Goodness knows, Kristoff didn't pull any stops on all the secret reveals in Kinslayer.  Nor did he hold back on all the possible twisted revelations either.


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