A website dedicated to books in the Young Adult genre, featuring book reviews, author interviews contests and much more!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Book Review: Blood Ninja by Nick Lake

Reading level: Young Adult
369 pages
Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing
(December 1, 2009)

Is Taro, a fisherman's son, destined for greatness? In the course of a day, Taro's entire life changes: His father is murdered before his eyes, and Taro is taken by a mysterious ninja on a perilous journey toward safety. Someone wants Taro dead, but who -- and why? With his best friend, Hiro, and their ninja guide Shusaku, Taro gets caught in the crossfire of a bitter conflict between rival lords for control of imperial Japan. As Taro trains to become a ninja himself, he's less and less sure that he wants to be one. But when his real identity is revealed, it becomes impossible for Taro to turn his back on his fate.

Taro had thought that the bloodsucking demons were only storybook things, meant to scare children into obedience, not real killers that could step out of the shadows and kill peasants only three ri from his home. He felt a shiver run down his spine, and a sense that danger had landed in Shirahama, as large and ponderous as a beached whale. Then he shook away the feeling. No, he was safe there, with his best friend, and there was no such thing as kyuuketsuki-not outside the old folktales, anyway.”- page 4

One night they came for Taro. They wanted him dead and went to great lengths to ensure that it happened quickly and efficiently. But with the help of his best friend Hiro and a mysterious stranger, Taro managed to escape. He knew that from that point forward, his life would never be the same again. Caught in the crossfire of a bitter war, he must decide where his loyalties lie. Will he turn his back on his true destiny?

THE HIGHLIGHTS: Don't be fooled. Though Blood Ninja is action packed with heart-pounding fight scenes, intense loyalty and engaging dialogue, it has even more to offer. One of the things I loved the most about the book was how elements of Japanese mythology, culture and politics were interwoven into the plot.
But, oh the fight scenes! Take for instance this one- I love the way Nick Lake sets the stage for some great conflict-

“Taro turned, exquisitely aware of every muscle and tendon in his neck, and faced the darkness. A dozen black-clad figures melted out of the night sand stood before him, a semicircle following the line of the circle cast by Hiro’s torch. Absently, he reached out with his left hand and pushed Hiro behind him, where his friend would be safe. He was aware on some level that he shouldn’t be strong enough to push Hiro anywhere, let alone with his left hand. But the strength felt good and right. He saw his enemies approach him, and he was glad.” -page 26

THE CRITIQUE: The first half of this book roared along with such excitement, I couldn't put it down. But somewhere in the middle, things started slowing down and dragging for me. The vampire element seemed so unimportant that at times I forgot I was even reading about them. I kept putting Blood Ninja aside. I didn't want to give up, but still found myself checking to see how many pages I had left. One thing that stood out to me was how little time was devoted to training Taro and his companions to become ninjas. I wanted to learn more about the process. Also, the way everything came to an end in an abrupt swirl of betrayal and bloodshed was dizzying and left me a bit bereft. This is the first book in the series, so I expected a cliff hanger of sorts, but with more of a resolution than what actually occurred. I also was disappointed with how a certain person betrayed Taro- it didn't seem like something she would really do to me.

THE BOTTOM LINE: It was refreshing to read a book taking something so saturated in the market today, and give it such a unique twist that it helped fill a void I didn’t even know existed. Of course I wanted to read a book about vampire ninjas! Why wouldn’t ninjas be vampires? They come out under the cover of night, possess extreme agility and seem inhumanely strong. It all made perfect sense. And bonus- women ninjas are always welcome. I loved that the female characters in Blood Ninja were just as skilled and socially accepted as the men.

My hope is that this series will continue to explore the vampire element more. There is a lot of fun to be had and plot twists to utilize with this aspect. I'm also anxious to see if the plot pacing evens out out and characterizations become tighter.

Despite a few misgivings, I'm looking forward to trying Blood Ninja II: The Revenge of Lord Oda which releases in December of this year. The series has a lot of potential and is one to look out for.

Nick Lake is a children's book editor at Harper UK. He received his degree in English from Oxford University. Blood Ninja was inspired by his interest in the Far East, and by the fact that he is secretly a vampire ninja himself. Nick lives with his wife in England.


Sandy said...

Hmm the idea of vampire ninjas sounded a bit too unique for my liking but after you compared the two it actually makes a lot of sense. Ninjas COULD be vampires ^_^. I do love my ninjas so perhaps I will read this book.

Emma said...

Awesome review. Hmm. I don't know how I feel about trying this one out.

Alex (Tales of a Teenage Book Lover) said...

Hehe! I will totally read this!