Young Samuari: The Way of the Warrior

Young Samurai 1

Author: Chris Bradford

Publication: Hyperion Books, 2009

Pages: 368

Overall Rating:  bth_5-star-rating_zps467d5332[1]                      

Rating for Action: bth_45_zps06f87659[1]

Quantity of Action: bth_3-star-rating_zps73bdba73[1]

Age Category: 9-12

Brief Summary: Jack Fletcher is traveling with his father, a pilot (navigator) on a British merchant ship, in the early 1600’s.  A typhoon wrecks their boat off the coast of Japan.  While making repairs, the ship is attacked by ninja pirates who kill his father and the rest of the crew.  An explosion destroys the ship and sends Jack into the ocean.  He awakens to find himself in a strange house.

Jack has been taken in by a Japanese family.  The head of that family is a Samurai warlord named Masamoto Takeshi.  Jack lives in Masamoto’s house, studying Japanese, befriending Masamoto’s niece, Akiko, and learning how to sword fight from his son, Yamato.

The Ninja’s, under the lead of a green eyed warrior named Dragon Eye, attack Masamoto’s house looking for the rutter (a book filled with maps, sea charts, and notes on winds and currents) that belonged to Jacks’ father.  After Jack saves Masamoto’s son from Dragon Eye, Masamoto sends Jack to study at his school for Samurai.  Along with Akiko and Yamato he delves into the arts of meditation, archery, karate, and sword fighting.

At the school, Jack has to contend with other students who resent his presence, while also pursuing a grueling course of study.  The bullying grows worse, ultimately leading to a competition in which Jack and his friends must fight the students of another samurai school.  The competition will push Jack to his limits and beyond as he struggles to find a place for himself in this foreign land.

Age of Main Character: 12

What I Liked the Most: Jack’s training at the Samurai school is extremely well done.  Bradford immediately sets up a conflict between Jack and another student – Kazuki – then takes us through the first session of each of their four classes.  In each class, Bradford mixes detailed instruction in the basics of swordsmanship, archery, karate, and meditation with Jack’s reaction to the lessons, his blossoming friendships with a handful of other students, and his growing struggle with Kazuki.  It almost felt like I was taking part in each of the classes, getting beat up, and learning how to hold a sword and shoot arrows.

Bradford also provides a wonderful introduction to the basics of medieval Japanese culture as Jack struggles to make his way in this foreign land.  He has to learn how to behave, how to act, and how to maintain proper etiquette.  And as he learns – and forgets, makes mistakes, and gets frustrated – we learn right alongside him.

What I Liked the Least: That’s hard to say.  The only negative thing that really comes to mind is that some of the basic elements of the story felt a little too similar to James Clavell’s Shogun.  In that book, an English pilot – John  Blackthorne – and his crew are washed ashore in Japan.  Blackthorne is taken in by an upper class Japanese family and befriended by the beautiful Mariko, who teaches him about the intricacies of Japanese culture.  He learns to dress, eat, and act Japanese, and ultimately carries the swords of a Samurai.  And he has enemies who never accept him as Japanese and hate him for being a foreigner.  Of course, there are far more differences than similarities between these two books, but when I first started reading I couldn’t shake the idea that this was Shogun for teens.

How Good was the Action?  There’s an excellent scene early in the book where Jack and the crew are battling a storm.  Jack is almost blown overboard and gets sent into the rigging, where he has to crawl out on the halyard to cut loose a tangled sail.  It’s a great opening scene.  There’s also a fantastic battle between Masamoto and another Samurai.  The mix of tiny details with fast action is just right.  The final competition is also great, especially the sparring match between Jack and another student twice his size.  And there’s an amazing race at the end, where Jack has to climb up the side of a waterfall.  Overall, the action is very well done and the fight scenes are top notch.

How Engaging was the Story?  The book pulled me in from page one with the excellent scene involving the typhoon.  After that, it combined just the right amount of action and character development to keep me riveted until the very end.  I loved following Jack as he learns to adjust to life in such an utterly foreign culture, to grasp the skills of a samurai, to fight his enemies, and to reach deep down inside for the strength and courage to endure every trial that Bradford throws at him.

Overall Assessment: This is an excellent book, combining the best of action and character development with an in-depth and loving exploration of a foreign culture.  It isn’t a non-stop thrill ride, and people looking for that might be disappointed.  But the action is fantastic and perfectly integrated into the story.  This is one book that’s too good to miss.

Profanity: None

Sex: None

Violence: There are numerous sword fights, and one short but violent sea battle.  A few sailors – including Jack’s father – are killed by throwing knife, garrote, and sword, but even these deaths are not overly graphic or gory.  Most of the other sword fights don’t result in anyone’s death.

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