Saturday 20 February 2010

Review: Hattori Hachi: The Revenge of Praying Mantis by Jane Prowse

Fifteen year old Hattie Jackson’s apparently normal life in Camden changes forever when her Japanese mother Chiyoko disappears one night under mysterious circumstances. Hattie is understandably startled to discover that she and her mother are, in fact, the last in a line of renowned ninjutsu warriors and that, if she is to stand any chance at all of rescuing Chiyoko, she must face her ancient family’s most implacable enemy – Praying Mantis. Before she can do that, however, she has much to learn...

OK... I know the cover looks a little girly but boys, please read on as this book is brilliant. In fact, I don't think I have felt this excited about a new action series since I first read Joe Craig's Jimmy Coates: Killer several years ago, and that is praise indeed. Fortunately this book was brought to my attention by fellow book-blogger Liz over at My Favourite Books, otherwise I may never have discovered it - just goes to show that you should never judge a book by its cover.

The book tells the story of Hattie Jackson, an almost normal schoolgirl living in a small attic flat in Camden, North London with her parents. Hattie's father is from Yorkshire and her mother from Japan, and they have travelled around a lot as a result of her father being a police officer. I say "almost normal" as we very soon discover that Hattie's everyday routine is a little different to that of her peers as, ever since she was a small child, her blackbelt mother has drilled her regularly in martial arts and various other tests of skill, agility and endurance. Hattie puts this down to being a loveable quirk of her mother and her background but we very soon discover that it is this Japanese ancestry that creates the focus for the plot.

Having used Chapter One to give us a brief but detailed overview of Hattie's life, Ms Prowse throws us straight into the story at the beginning of the next chapter, when Hattie and her father receive a late night visit from the police, who deliver the news that Hattie's mother has disappeared, leaving signs of a bloody struggle. Before we know it, the action hits us squarely between the eyes as Hattie is attacked by shadowy figures, only to be rescued by the most unlikely of people, Yazuki the little old Japanese lady who runs the laundry on the ground floor of Hattie's apartment building. We soon discover that Hattie's mother belongs to the highest ninjutsu family in old Japan, a family that is now being targeted by the malevolent Praying Mantis and his gang of evil ninja renegades known as the Kataki warriors. Yes boys.... Hattie's mother and Yazuki are both highly skilled ninja warriors, and the various exercises that Hattie has had to perform through her life designed purely to train her in the art of ninjutsu.

I have mentioned a number of times in earlier posts that boys don't seem to warm to books with female main characters. However, this book could change that attitude as it is as thrilling an action story as anything written by Anthony Horowitz, Robert Muchamore or Joe Craig. Writing realistic, non-repetitive action scenes is not an easy task, yet Ms Prowse accomplishes this with a finesse that is often lacking in adult action novels. Hattie's ninja training scenes, and the subsequent fight scenes against the highly skilled Kataki warriors, are a joy to read.

As well as this amazing fast-paced action, Jane Prowse is also very adept at creating realistic and exciting characters. My personal favourite is Yazuki - every great coming-of-age martial arts movie has a memorable and colourful mentor for the emerging hero/heroine and the author has Yazuki playing this role to perfection. In addition, there is also the brilliantly named Mad Dog, one of Hattie's best friends, who also brings a little comedy to the story. These characters, and many others, are well-developed and are all totally believable. Their dialogue is tight and realistic, and their actions drive the plot along at a breathless pace - they had me reading as quickly as I could to find out just what would happen to them next.

If you haven't been persuaded to get your hands on this book yet, then read on. Not only has Ms Prowse delivered us memorable characters and kick-ass action scenes, but the plot itself is also brilliant. There is mystery and intrigue, as the story twists and turns its way towards the dramatic conclusion. Hattie never knows exactly who she can trust, and we even see moments of extreme paranoia where she begins to suspect her closest friends of being in league with the enemy. There are far too many moments of nail-biting tension to mention in this review, and as a reader I was never entirely sure whether all Hattie's allies would make it through to the end of the book in one piece.

Hattori Hachi: The Revenge of Praying Mantis was published by Piccadilly in July 2009. As I said at the beginning of this review, I am incredibly excited about this as a series of books, although I am going to have to wait until June for the sequel, entitled Hattori Hachi: Stalking The Enemy. If subsequent books are as good as this first one then this series has the potential to be huge; I just hope it gets the recognition it deserves. As the Harry Potter series became increasingly popular, the publishers started issuing it in two different editions - one with a colourful cover, and another with a more adult-friendly cover. If Hattori Hachi was reissued in an edition with a cover that is more appealing to boys then I am sure that many more boys would pick it up and become as hooked on the story as I am. 

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