PROS: The theme of the series is rendered in strong lines; a high-octane action draws the reader through the book.
CONS: Questions of cultural appropriation reduce the book’s appeal for readers.
BOTTOM LINE: A strongly themed finale to Kristoff’s unique steampunk trilogy
The civil war, initiated by the death of the Shogun at the hands of Yukiko, the Stormdancer, has come to full fruition in Endsinger, the third and final book in Jay Kristoff’s Lotus War Trilogy. The Great Houses now openly strive against each other. The plan for Hiro, young lordling of the Tiger clan, to marry the late Shogun’s sister and cement a marriage bond claim to the throne has gone to ruin along with his palace. The gaijin, finally getting a reprieve from the war brought to their shores, have put plans in place to revenge themselves on their oppressors on the home front. And amongst it all, a long-standing secret plan by the Guild continues to roll. For the Lotus must bloom, and for a deep, dark reason that is about to be revealed.
The questions and concerns of cultural appropriation, questions I did not consider in my review of Stormdancer, do still remain in this book. I do not have the background or knowledge to tender such questions myself; these questions have been outlined by other people in other venues. I have been criticized for not being aware of these cultural appropriation issues. I read this book, then, with those concerns weighing on my mind. The world of Shima is a hodgepodge borrowing from Japanese culture, with doses of Japanese language, culture, concepts and social structures. This third volume is no different from the previous two in that regard. This does firmly make the novel non-Western fantasy, an idea I’ve championed, but a less than successful example of same.
With those issues firmly in mind, the strengths of the final book in the series for me are twofold: The action, and the execution of the emergent theme of the novel and series. The novel ramps up the high-octane action at the expense of the sometimes-excessive amount of infodumping in the earlier two volumes. A foreign invasion of Shima and a full-bore civil war are just the appetizers for the meat of the action of the book. Kristoff pulls out a weapon, the Earthcrusher, that is reminiscent of Michael Moorcock’s Land Leviathan. And even a gigantic supertank rampaging across Shima pales in comparison to the plan that the Guild has, and the final gambit they have to unleash.
The book manages to counterpoint the intense action in the novel with some nice character moments. If action is truly a way to illustrate character, Kristoff has taken that maxim to heart, putting Yukiko, Buruu and the other characters through their paces. There are noble sacrifices, desperate gambits, and much more that the protagonists face. And yes, there are even opportunities for redemption. Here, at the end of the trilogy, the author is willing to pull out the stops everywhere in bringing the various character arcs to a close in fire and blood.
The Guild, the lotus, and the environmental devastation that the Guild’s product and ambitions unleash on Shima remains a strong and abiding theme that, begun in Stormdancer, is carried through Kinslayer and ends here in Endsinger. No one who visits or looks at pictures of places like the Alberta tar sands, or mountains blown up for mining purposes, or sees the poisoning of water by hydraulic fracking and worse can miss the themes that Kristoff is hammering home in this novel. One can easily replace “The Lotus must bloom” with “The oil must flow” and replace the descriptions of what the Lotus does to the landscape to what the overuse of fossil fuels has done to our own planet. Kristoff is not subtle in his analogies and use of the theme, and even manages in Endsinger to show the trap that reliance and use of lotus can be when the supply is cut off at a crucial moment. But Endsinger proves that, with cultural appropriation issues taken into account, he can successfully bring the themes and action of a fantasy trilogy to a successful conclusion.