The precise and technical details that build this Japanese steampunk world weigh down the early chapters, but the plot takes off when the mythical arashitora (literally “stormtiger”) forms a strong bond with dagger-wielding heroine, Yukiko. Her relationship with the griffin-like creature is especially poignant in light of the personal losses she reveals as the story unfolds. Heavy-handed themes of environmentalism and duty emerge as the politics of the region come into play, but it’s the bonds of family and friendship that feel the truest, with heartwrenching effect.
The Shogun of the Shima Isles orders his master hunter Masaru and Masaru’s 16-year-old daughter, Yukiko, to find an arashitora, an eagle and tiger mix thought to be extinct. Against all odds, Masaru and his crew find one and cage it on their floating ship. The victory doesn’t last long: A storm destroys the dirigible and scatters the crew across the foreign land. Yukiko, using her ability to speak telepathically to animals, finds and eventually befriends the arashitora. The two struggle to make their way back to the capital, where they must find a way to free themselves, and the land, from the rule of the sociopathic Shogun. (THOMAS DUNNE, Sep., 336 pp., $24.99)