Main Characters: Taro, Shusaku, Yukiko, Heiko, Little Kawabata, Junichiro
Main Premise: Taro is a young Japanese boy, living in a fishing village. He is often teased by the other villagers and his one true friend is Hiro. Taro saved Hiro’s life and now Hiro and he are inseparable. Taro’s mother is a diver and his father is ill. One night a band of ninja’s come to Taro’s home, kill his father and attempt to kill him. One ninja is there to save Taro and does. Taro’s mother is sent away since apparently Taro was the target. Taro and hiro set off with Shusaku, the ninja who saved Taro.
Taro is apparently the hidden son of Lord Tokugawa, the mortal enemy of Lord Oda. And Lord Oda sent the ninjas to kill Taro since Lord Oda wants to be shogun. There is a wonderful cast of characters that we meet after that. The girls, Yukiko and Heiko, the abbess (I am convinced there is more to her then we know – and her relationship with Shusaku), Little Kawabata and his father… and then there is Junichiro who we really only get a glimpse of, but at one point the author all but screams “he’s important and connected to Taro!!!” And then, there is the connection between vampires and ninjas. While clever, it is not as original as some might think (there’s some anime that predates this book by quite a bit that already made that connection), but it’s still fresh, from an American reader’s perspective (compare to Twilight and the like anyway). The reality is that the connection there is important to the plot, but not so much so that I really need to explain must else other then to say to be a ninja you must be a vampire
Location(s): Historical Japan
Other important things to remember later: To be filled in.
My Review: So, the cover intrigued me (I can totally be suckered in by a cool cover). I am a huge fan of all things sci-fi/fantasy, especially in the YA category. Let’s see how balanced this review is:
1. Annoyed me: apparently this is the start of a series. Wonderful. I say that both seriously and sarcastically at the same time. I don’t mind serials. In fact, I read a ton of them. But I like to know what I am getting myself into when I pick up a book. I don’t like having that sprung on me last minute. I usually can’t stomach books that end without any resolution to anything. After finishing, and realizing that basically nothing was resolved in this book, I am left asking “how many books will there be?” I liked the first well enough that I will buy the second. But I really would like to know what I am getting myself into. is this going to be a set of 2? A long term experience (of 4, 6, 8…) Or is it going to be like a few of the YA series that I started, with the author telling us it will be X and then when we hit book X, there will be more (which virtually always destroys the plot and story telling and each time that has happened, I have quit reading that series). I have found very little on the next book and that is disappointing. Not to mention, as an author, I would think Mr. Lake should embrace the web the way so many other authors have… a website at least for himself, maybe a fan site, forum, etc. Especially if this isn’t going to simply end with a second book.
2. Liked: The historical setting. Feudal Japan is intriguing and there is so much culture to explore that can be used. The setting, with the cherry blossoms, the mountains… what a beautiful backdrop for a book.
3. Annoyed me: character development was pretty weak and a chuckle here or there wouldn’t hurt. There isn’t enough character development for me to feel really attached to any one character – really other them Hiro. And he is probably my favorite. Although I am not sure if he’s the character that was supposed to be the best developed. I feel kind of like that happened accidentally.
4. Liked: Ninjas! How awesome! Samurai! Sword fighting, even a little bit about sword making. Need more!!!
5. Annoyed me: The use of Japanese words in the middle of English dialogue, in italics, is pretty stupid. I mean if we are supposed to think they are speaking in Japanese and we are just getting the English translation, wouldn’t the Japanese words be translated too? And if there isn’t really an appropriate translation, well, then why italicize the word – just to point that out? So NOT necessary. Not to mention, there were a few Japanese words that were pointed out in this fashion, but I still don’t know for sure exactly what they meant. Bummer.
6. Liked: the fact that there are women ninja’s and the girls have just as much potential to do some major butt kicking. Just as much potential as the boys in the story. That’s a great change of pace from most of the YA/vamp stuff. Girl power
7. Annoyed me: That the training to be a ninja was soooo fast. Taro, Hiro and the girls, after just a few weeks consider themselves ninja’s. They haven’t all meet all the requirements, but still. Training in the martial arts is a lifelong discipline. Training with live blades isn’t something one progresses to in mere days. Bokken to live blade takes time, no matter how good one naturally is.
8. Liked: some of the philosophy that seems to come through. I have been training in a martial art for many years now. And I love it. But it’s not just the kicking, punching and weapons that are part of that study. And some of that seems to come across. There were times when I recognized things my instructor has taught me and I loved how it was blended into this book. It wasn’t “in your face” but it was there to be plucked up (and recognized if you know what to look for and are looking for it) and hopefully digested and learned.
The book was a little predictable at times. But I think that’s hard to avoid when dealing with vampires and the YA genre. There are limits to what is appropriate and what can be discussed. The predictability was a little easy to point out too – a few things would probably have been better had they been more subtle. But I think that often, when the character development isn’t strong enough that happens because as a reader, you are trying to find things to latch onto and things that might have been smaller, subtler hints otherwise stand out so much more, since you aren’t as engrossed in the characters. Finally, I give the author credit for killing off certain characters – it takes some guts to kill of characters that readers might get attached to. And in that way, some of the predictability – at least of some things – is reduced. (Although the Lord Oda thing – saw that coming 30 seconds after Taro was turned, but, oh well.)
I did really enjoy the book. I am looking forward to Blood Ninja II and hope we get some resolution to at least a few of the questions in it.