Tiger – Five Ancestors #1

Five Ancestors

Author: Jeff Stone

Publication: Random House, 2005

Pages: 208

Overall Rating: bth_35_zps7a173504[1]                       

Rating for Action: bth_45_zps06f87659[1]

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

Age Category: 9 – 12

Brief Summary: The year is 1650 and soldiers from the Chinese imperial army have just invaded the Cangzhen Temple, a secret temple for training warrior monks.  The grandmaster orders five of the youngest monks to escape.  Despite their youth, each of them have already mastered one of the animal styles of kung fu.  12 year old Fu, who is a master of tiger style kung fu, is the most aggressive of the five and the most unwilling to run off, especially after he learns that the attack has been orchestrated by one of his former brothers, Ying.  Ying is a master of eagle style kung fu but dreams of mastering the all powerful dragon style, and has ordered his soldiers to steal the temple’s sacred dragon scrolls – which provide advanced instruction in dragon style kung fu – before burning the rest of the library to the ground.  Fu sneaks back into the temple to steal the scrolls from Ying, and when Ying finds out the chase is on.  He will stop at nothing to destroy Fu and recover the scrolls.

Age of Main Character: 12

What I Liked the Most: Fu is a really fun character.  He doesn’t often stop to think about what he’s doing.  He acts on instinct, just like a tiger, and is generally aggressive and ready for action.  Stone does a great job getting inside Fu’s head and showing us the world through his eyes.  He’s never quiet and he never holds his tongue, which makes for a great main character.

In fact, each of the five young monks acts and feels much like the animal they’re associated with.  Malao, who is a master of monkey style kung fu, can’t stop bouncing and leaping around.  He’s a trickster, always out for a laugh.  Even the way he talks sounds like how a monkey might speak.  It’s the same with all the others, even those who don’t get much coverage in this book: She – a master of snake style – slithers and slides; Hok – a master of crane style – hops, stretches, and moves with grace; Long – a master of dragon style – is fluid and muscular.

What I Liked the Least: In many places the dialogue felt stilted and wooden.  Some passages sounded particularly forced, like Stone was using the dialogue purely as a vehicle for conveying necessary information.  For example, at one point in the story Fu attacks a group of hunters who trapped a tiger and her cub.  During the fight his anger gets the best of him and he attacks one of the hunter’s sons and hits him with a club.  Afterwards, he feels bad and goes to the hunters’ village to try and apologize.  While hiding behind some bushes near the edge of the village he overhears two men talking.  They’re about to dump some food and one man says, “Yeah…there’s no point in making him feel any worse.  If I were him, I’d have cancelled the celebration, too.  Imagine, your only son attacked by a vicious killer monk for no reason.  And on top of everything else that’s already happened.”  The second man replies, “What a shame.  What a shame.”  And the first man adds, “It couldn’t have happened to a nicer boy either.  They say he’s now deaf in one ear.  Can you imagine?…Yes, it certainly is a shame.  You don’t suppose the killer monk is a friend of Major Ying?  I heard he was once a monk, too.  I know for a fact he’s the most evil creature to walk our countryside in generations.”  And so it goes.

While Stone’s descriptions of the fights that take place are beautiful, and filled with exquisite details about the kung fu, there is one place where his detail goes a little overboard.  At one point, Fu agrees to teach some kung fu to another boy.  Stone then spends the next three pages having Fu demonstrate a basic kung fu stance and a single kick.  It’s clear that Stone knows what he’s talking about, but the level of detail here felt like a lecture.  This is not a kung fu instruction manual, it’s a novel.

How Good was the Action?  Fantastic.  Stone weaves just the right amount of detail into his scenes so that you can picture the fights and the kung moves taking place.  I’ll quote one brief passage to give you an idea of what I’m talking about.

Fu took a deep breath and attacked again.  This time he slashed low with both swords.  The soldier jumped high over Fu’s sweeping weapons, but Fu twisted both wrists up powerfully and continued his swing toward the airborne soldier.  The Soldier swung his sword down to protect himself.

                As the soldier’s straight sword met the hook swords, Fu twisted both wrists outward and pulled his arms apart, locking the hooks around the soldier’s straight blade.  Fu dropped to the ground and rolled 360 degrees to his side, ripping the straight sword from the soldier’s grasp.  As Fu flipped up on his feet, he arched his back and released the pressure on the hooks slightly.  The soldier’s sword sailed onto the roof of the burning building.

Most of the fight scenes are done with similar attention to detail, whether the battles involve swords, spears, or fists.  It makes them a true joy to read.  And while the action isn’t continuous, there’s enough of it peppered throughout the book that you’re never too far from the next scene.

How Engaging was the Story?   While the character development is good, and the action scenes are top notch, the dialogue kept the story from being as engaging as it might have been.  I really got into Fu as a character and I enjoyed following him on this adventure, but whenever people started talking it tended to pull my head out of the book, at least until it got back to Fu’s internal thoughts or a new action scene.  As a result, this was a fun book to read, but not a page turner.

Overall Assessment: This is a good book for action fans.  It isn’t the non-stop frenzied action of an Alex Rider or Young Bond novel, and the plot is fairly simple – Ying attacks the temple to steal the scrolls, Fu gets to them first, Ying sends out his soldiers to recapture Fu – but the characters are a lot of fun and the action scenes are so well done that the book is worth reading for that alone.  If only the dialogue felt more authentic I could give this a whole hearted recommendation.

Profanity: None

Sex: None

Violence: The fight scenes are well detailed, but I wouldn’t necessarily call them graphic.   People get knocked down, take hits to the stomach or groin, or in a couple cases break a bone.  While people do die, it’s never at the hands of Fu or his brothers and is always described in a more distant manner.  For example, a lot of people die in the attack on Cangzhen temple, but we don’t actually witness the attack, we only hear about it later.  The most graphic scene is one in which Fu grabs a soldier by his hair and pulls down, shattering the soldier’s nose on a rock.  When the man rips his head out of Fu’s grasp a chunk of hair and scalp comes with it.

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