The Way of the Warrior

warrior[1]

Author: Andrew Matthews

Publication: Dutton Children’s Books, 2008

Pages: 192

Overall Rating:  bth_3-star-rating_zps73bdba73[1]                      

Rating for Action: bth_25_zps13f4f4eb[1]

Quantity of Action: bth_25_zps13f4f4eb[1]

Age Category: 13+

Brief Summary:  Jimmu’s father is a 16th century Japanese nobleman.  A rival lord, Choju Ankan, falsely accuses him of plotting to overthrow the emperor and he and his wife are forced to commit ritual suicide.  Jimmu is taken under the care of his father’s samurai bodyguard, Araki Nichiren and trained to fight so that when he is old enough he can kill Choju Ankan and regain the family’s honor.  When Jimmu is 17, Nichiren dies and he sets off in search of Lord Ankan.  He is hired as a guard in Ankan’s castle, and soon finds that he has begun to work his way into Lord Ankan’s favor.   Even more so, he is working himself into the favor of Ankan’s beautiful daughter, Takeko.  As Jimmu learns more about Ankan and Takeko he begins to question his mission.  But deep inside his head he still hears the voice of Nichiren, yelling at him to put aside his feelings and kill Choju Ankan.  When the moment comes, what will Jimmu do?

Age of Main Character: 17

What I Liked the Most: I liked the back and forth relationship between Jimmu and Takeko.  Both are strong characters and it shows through in every interaction between them.  Jimmu has to fight his own growing attraction to Takeko – both because of their differences in station and because he wants to kill her father.  He often tries to hide his feelings in formality.  This enrages Takeko, who masks her own feelings in petty anger.  Between them it makes for some pretty interesting exchanges, with their real feelings hidden just beneath the surface.

I also liked Jimmu’s internal dialogue and the voice of Nichiren that has embedded itself deep in his mind and comes out whenever he’s unsure what he should be doing.  As the story progresses, it’s cool to watch Jimmu begin questioning that inner voice.

What I Liked the Least: Nichiren is a fairly powerful character in this book, seen mostly through the voice in Jimmu’s head.  The book makes it clear that Jimmu spent seven years living and training with Nichiren, and gives us one or two brief glimpses of that time through flashbacks.  But as I read the book I really found myself wishing that Matthews had done something to show us more of that time.  We see Jimmu when he’s ten, witnessing his father’s death, and immediately skip to Jimmu at 17 and already an expert swordsman and spearman with a single purpose in life – to kill Choju Ankan.  What’s really missing is a deeper glimpse into those seven years.

I wanted to know how Jimmu became the person that he was.  What his life was like during all those years of wandering with Nichiren, where they lived and how they survived.  There are also various incidents throughout the book where Jimmu discovers some gap in Nichiren’s teaching, something vital about being a warrior and samurai that he was never taught. And I wanted to know more about that, why those gaps existed, and just what it was that Nichiren did teach him.  Knowing so little about that time felt like a real hole in the story.

Similarly, Jimmu spends a great deal of time as a guard in Lord Ankan’s castle.  But in the end, I still didn’t feel like I had much of a sense for what life was like for guards in a medieval Japanese castle. This was a short book, and I think it could have benefited from being filled out  and giving more time to Jimmu’s life with Nichiren, more time to his life as a guard in the castle, and more time to the battles that in many ways Matthews seems to skim over.  All-in-all the book was just too short.

How Good was the Action?  The action here is only okay.  It comes primarily in battles, of which there are four or five throughout the book.  But the reality is that most of these fights are short and lack any real detail outside of a brief description of how Jimmu kills the person he’s fighting.  There’s no blow-by-blow detail of the sword fights, no real sense of a clash of arms.  Even the huge battle near the end of the book felt tiny and lacked any real sense of the fear, blood, and confusion you’d normally expect to find in a battle involving thousands of soldiers.  The fights also felt a bit underwhelming because Jimmu never has any fear or uncertainty going into them.  We generally see fairly little of his emotions during the fights.  Overall, the level of action was not that great for a book of this nature.

How Engaging was the Story?  The driving force behind the story is Jimmu’s desire for revenge and his growing uncertainty about whether Lord Ankan deserves what he has coming – and whether, in fact, Jimmu even wants to risk his life fighting Lord Ankan.  There’s also some great tension between Jimmu and Takeko, who are attracted to each other but come from such different stations in life that admitting such an attraction is downright dangerous.  Together, these two forces kept the story rolling along and it was cool to watch Jimmu grow and change over the course of the book.

Overall Assessment: In the end, this felt like the seed of a great book.  I enjoyed following Jimmu’s emotional conflicts and his evolving relationship with Lord Ankan and Takeko.  But the fight scenes were lackluster and there were too many important aspects of Jimmu’s life that Matthews skips over in favor of a short read.  This was a good story with a lot of potential, and I would have stuck with Matthews for another hundred pages if he’d used it to fill out the book and bring it to its full potential.

Profanity: None

Sex: None

Violence: Yes.  There are numerous battle scenes in which Jimmu kills other samurai or bandits.  He puts spears through their chests, cuts off their legs, and decapitates them.  Still, the fights lack detail and even when Jimmu kills other people it doesn’t feel particularly grisly.

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