The Story of My Book: Jay Kristoff on Stormdancer

Jay Kristoff tells us the story behind Stormdancer, the first book in his YA dystopian steampunk series.


It was a dream that started Stormdancer. Not a dream of literary fame and solid gold money pools and groupies (authors get groupies, right?), but an actual bona fide dream-type dream.

I was querying my first novel at the time, and meeting the kind of success fluffy bunnies meet when trying to stop moving cars with their faces. In the midst of this blizzard of boiler-plate rejection letters, I dreamed about a little boy trying to teach a griffin to fly, but the griffin’s wings were broken and it couldn’t get off the ground no matter how much he screamed. (Freudians would say the boy was me, and the griffin was my first novel). I was looking for a subject for my next book, and the image just stuck in my head.

Stormdancer’s setting is a nation teetering on the edge of ruin. Shima is an imperium built on the backs of fantastical technologies - sky-ships and motor-rickshaw and thunder-rail, defended by noble Iron Samurai in lumbering suits of smoke-stained power armor.

But the engines that drive the empire are ever-thirsty, and Shima is being slowly consumed by the very technologies that once made it powerful. When I first pictured the islands in my head, I imagined a high-speed collision between the epic settings of feudal Japan and the fictions of Verne, Moore and Gibson, smudged with a handful of soot and burned motor oil.

So ‘Japanese Steampunk’ is my elevator-pitch reply when people ask me to sum up the book. But that’s not what the book is about.

At its heart, Stormdancer is a book about an unlikely friendship between two even more unlikely characters – a girl with the ability to speak telepathically to animals in a country where animal life is virtually extinct, and the last griffin left alive in the entire country.

I wanted to write an epic adventure, full of battles and betrayals and chainsaw katana fights, with a kick-ass heroine who didn’t need to choose a boy by which to define herself. But more than that, I wanted to write a book with heart; a book about a friendship that bloomed despite all obstacles. A bond that would grow to become a thing of legend in this nation on the edge of ruin – a friendship that challenged the might of an empire.

Stormdancer is out now.