Blood Ninja

Blood Ninja

Author: Nick Lake

Publication: Simon and Schuster, 2009

Pages:  400

Overall Rating:  bth_4-star-rating_zps38e772a0[1]                      

Rating for Action: bth_4-star-rating_zps38e772a0[1]

Quantity of Action:bth_4-star-rating_zps38e772a0[1]

Age Category: 13+

Brief Summary:  Taro lives in a small fishing village on the coast of 16th century Japan.  He’s always felt like something of an outsider in the village, which makes sense as his parents are refugees who moved to the coast in the wake of a major war.  His only friend is Hiro, the son of another refugee family and an accomplished wrestler.

One afternoon, while returning from a day spent hunting rabbits in the forest, Taro hears a rumor that a family down the coast was killed by vampires.  This is quickly followed by another rumor of a family murdered at the hands of ninja.  That night, Taro and his family are attacked by a band of ninja.  His father is killed and his mother is driven into hiding, but Taro himself is rescued by a renegade ninja named Shusaku.

Taro, Hiro, and Shusaku battle their way to safety, but before the night is out Shusaku is forced to change Taro into a vampire in order to save his life, and that’s only the beginning of Taro’s troubles.  All too soon, he learns that the ninja who tried to kill him were hired by a powerful warlord who wants him dead.

With bands of ninja and powerful samurai hiding behind every corner, Taro finds himself thrown into a deadly battle for survival, as he struggles to find his mother, avenge his father, and discover the truth about his own mysterious past.

Age of Main Character: 16

What I Liked the Most: Lake does an excellent job seeping this book in the history and culture of medieval Japan.  Whether it was the landscape, costumes, weapons, tea ceremonies, food, or rock gardens, I came away from this book feeling like I’d just spent 350 pages living in a lush world of shimmering rice paddies, dirt poor peasants, vicious warlords, and high flying ninja.

I liked the way that the vampire story line doesn’t take center stage.  In Lake’s book, all ninja are vampires.  It’s why they have such extraordinary skills, while also explaining why all their missions are carried out at night.  Taro’s vampire blood gives him enhanced speed and strength, and helps him to quickly heal from most wounds, but all the same, the fact that he’s a vampire doesn’t hijack the story.  This is still a book about a boy from a seaside village who loses his parents in a ninja attack, joins another band of ninja, and heads out to seek revenge on the warlord who ordered the attack.  The fact that he’s also a vampire simply enhances an already compelling story.

What I Liked the Least: This is a minor complaint, but part way through the book Taro and his companions are accepted into a ninja clan and begin their training to become full-fledged ninja.  I had two basic problems with what happened at this point in the story.  First of all, several of the people in training with Taro were already part of the ninja community and had presumably been in training since they were children, yet they all seemed to start their training at the same place, with Taro knowing just as much as the rest of them.  Second, Taro’s training seemed to take place over the course of only a few days – progressing from the basics of hand-to-hand combat to becoming a skilled swordsman.  I felt like Taro’s progress was much too fast, and that his companions should have been far more skilled than they were.

How Good was the Action?  Excellent, and there’s plenty of it.  While Lake does manage to create a cast of convincing characters and provide some genuine depth to their motivations, this is primarily an action story.  There are more than enough great fights and near escapes to keep any action fan happy.

The fights themselves are very well done.  There’s a lot of great blow-by-blow action with summarized movements thrown in at just the right times, all of it carefully woven together with Taro’s internal feelings as he moves through the battle.  And while the fights are bloody, they’re really more about Taro mindset and the intricacies of swordplay than about the gore itself.

How Engaging was the Story?  Lake provides plenty of opportunities to get inside Taro’s head and understand the memories and emotions that drive him forward.  And while 90% of the story is told from Taro’s point of view, Lake also intersperses it with a few brief chapters told from the point of view of some of the other major characters.  This ends up working out very well.  For the most part, we learn about the motivations of Taro’s companions through their interactions with him – but in the case of Taro’s enemies and potential enemies, we get to see small snippets of the story from their perspective.  That helped give me a better sense of the dangers Taro was facing, thus making the story that much more engaging.

Overall Assessment: This was a fun read, no question about it – though I will admit there were a few times when I felt embarrassed pulling the book out, especially with all that fake blood dripping down the cover.   Lake has written a fast-paced and engaging story of revenge, filled with plenty of sword fights and cool ninja action.  It’s a must read for any true aficionado of martial arts stories, and might represent an interesting diversion for most fans of vampire fiction.

Profanity: None

Sex: None.  There’s a bit of mild flirting between a couple of the characters, but nothing more.

Violence: Yes, and as the title suggests Lake doesn’t shy away from the blood and gore.  People get bitten and drink blood.  They also get cut in half, stabbed through the stomach, beheaded, blinded, and die in any number of violent ways.

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