Actual rating 4.5 stars - Updated 13.01.2013 after much thought and reading other books that I gave 4 stars to I realised this deserved more.When my friend recommended me this book I was totally excited for it. Japanese steampunk? Hells yeah!What I didn't like about this:This was a great book but not as great as the hype made it out to be. It took me AGES to read it - a book of this size should only take me tops 2 days to read with uni in between. However, this took me like 4 days to read. It was extremely hard to read. The descriptions didn't create imagery easily, I had to really really concentrate for the pictures and setting to form in my mind. I would read 1 chapter on the train and think "oh my god this is going right over my head". Is it possible to be overly descriptive? I mean, I understand Kristoff was being cautious and detailing as much as possible as his Shima wasn't a place people would be familiar with. But gosh the amount of times he repeated things made me want to rip my hair out:"The sky hung heavy with a pall of fumes..." and in the following sentence "trailing a suffocating plume of blue-black exhaust"."Masaru squinted through the pall of greasy smoke at the cards in front of him. The dealer watched him through half-closed lids, a blue-black wreath coiled in the air around his head."Throughout the whole book, this blue-black is attached to the end of half the paragraphs like a leech. I mean far out I GET IT... IT'S POLLUTED BY LOTUS, PEOPLE GET HIGH OF THIS SHIT, IT RUNS THE CITY RAH RAH RAH. Half the time I was thinking "I swear I just read that... oh wait". It's an endless cycle these dreaded words. I get it, he wants to emphasise this thing that is a poison to Shima but it's not required to the point where I wanted to just stop reading this.Then there is the sheer amount of Japanese used in this. Had I not watched a shitload of subbed anime and Japanese dramas I would have no bloody idea what half this book is about. The Glossary at the end is a failed attempt at saving face. At least Kristoff waited until the second page to unleash his flurry of Japanese "She drew her tanto..." For the most part, it's eventually explained what the word means. Tanto I figured meant some kind of sword and further reading tells me it's a 6 inch knife. But things like "Hai" you'd have no idea what it meant - only some kind of submission (for the record it means 'yes'). Weapons like "wakizashi" and "katana" are easily thrown around and although described, the too many adjectives just went right over my head (thank you Yojimbo and Auron from Final Fantasy for teaching me what these actually look like).The more I read I couldn't help thinking "this guy needs to chillax on the Japanese". I felt I read more Japanese than English a lot of the time.*SPOILER ALERT* Aisha was a predictable character among all of this - of course the resistance is right under the Shogun's eyes.What I liked about this book:Despite sensory overload to the point of being uncomfortable, the setting IS spectacular. And again, despite me ranting about being overly descriptive and a lot of things going over my head, once things were absorbed I was definitely transported into the polluted and ruined world of Shima or the beautiful rainforests.Kristoff's idea of how this one plant can be a source of fuel, drug and basically support an empire is extremely cool. Even cooler was the concept of the life/fertiliser that sustained these plants. When I read about how, I was horrified yet fascinated - quite an original idea. Actually, an extremely original idea and I loved it and I was like HOLY SHIT OMG WAIT DID I JUST READ THAT? I had to re-read it a few times to make sure what I thought was correct. I also did love most of the characters, I really took a liking to Kasumi but I really loved Buruu. There was just something so grounded about him, despite his ferocity there was this calm whenever I read about him. And dang the heroine of the story, Yukiko, is a force of her own. I loved her growth throughout the book - from a seemingly naive, curious girl to a brave and strong young woman by the end wearing her scars proudly.I think what I loved the most was Hiro. I so did not see that coming. And that twist is what made me give this book 4.5 stars. I think I actually laughed when it was written in plain ink and smacked me in the face... of all the people! Some people might have seen the twist, but I was so absorbed in what was unfolding and the suspense that I totally missed it - now THAT is great writing!I do love a good steampunk and this was one of them - I've always dreamed of flying in an airship.Since getting back into reading I'd read so many dystopians/sci-fi/paranormal books that this steampunk was something so totally different - a real breath of fresh air. The concept was unique and unlike anything I'd ever read!