Thursday, August 5, 2010

Blood Ninja - Nick Lake

UK Cover
It is 1565 and Japan is ruled by a boy Emperor. The political situation is only stable because the competing interests of the Lords, who rule the provinces of Japan, ensures that no one of them becomes too powerful. Whilst everything on the surface is cordial the Lords secretly scheme to obtain ultimate power. The Lords Oda and Tokugawa in particular seek to rule Imperial Japan.

Unaware of the political intrigue and machinations that flow and eddy in the palaces and great houses of Japan, Taro, the son of a fisherman and an amas (pearl diver) grows up in the coastal village of Nagoya. Taro does not look like his fellow villagers, he also prefers the bow and the hunt to the rod and the sea which sets him apart. His best friend Hiro is also an outsider, saved from a shark by Taro when a child.

The scene is therefore set for one of the oldest and one of the newest plot lines in history - boy with destiny grows up in obscurity only to find out that he is not who he thought he was. This is a pretty well used story line but where Nick Lake makes things interesting is that he introduces a whole new class of undead warrior - the Vampire Ninja. This means that throughout the book we are given awesome swordplay (from both boys and girls) with some major martial arts (from the boys and the girls) and some pretty gruesome scenes (do I need to mention the finger and the leprosy!).
Nick Lake has brought 16th Century Imperial Japan to life in a real and vibrant way. He has clearly researched his period, including the myths and legends of the time, which all make for a full, three dimensional experience. Japanese words are used throughout the book ( I would have appreciated a glossary of terms to help me keep up) and time and distance are again dealt with as if you were Japanese (again an introductory explanation would have been useful).
This book is not however one fight scene after another poorly linked, there are whole sections of the book that do not involve fighting. As Taro and his companions travel through Japan to the Ninja secret hideout Taro is shown to grow both emotionally and in his awareness that the world is not a black and white place, that the reasons people do things are complex. The book ends with two great scenes that I wish I could tell you about but which set up book two to be as exciting and thrilling as this first one.
Blood Ninja is the first in a planned trilogy and Nick Lake has said that there is a very definite end point for the series. The book very much felt as if we are being given an introduction to the characters and their lives and I expect the sequel ( The Revenge of Lord Oda) to be fast and furious as both the characters and readers will have hit their stride. As with Blood Ninja expect swords, changing allegiances, throwing stars, hideouts, sellouts, revenge, sacrifice, beheadings, body parts - and vampire ninjas.
This is a book that boys and kick ass girls will love.
US Cover
Before leaving the review however I would like to mention Blood Ninja's UK cover (above). One of the best that I have seen this year, very different to the book's American version  (right) and a work of art. The illustrator is Hydro74 otherwise known as Joshua Smith. If you like the cover art then you could do worse than log on to his website ( here ) and view his other creations.
You can find an interview with Nick Lake here.
Read the first chapter of Blood Ninja: The Revenge of Lord Oda here (out 7th December).
Blood Ninja was published on 2nd August and is available to buy now.
My thanks to Corvus and Grove Atlantic for supplying me with a copy of Blood Ninja for review.

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