Thursday, 8 April 2010
Review: Blood Ninja by Nick Lake
A fisherman's son is snatched from home to fulfil his true destiny in this thrilling novel of ancient curses, warring emperors, forbidden love...and blood-sucking ninjas. Taro is a boy from a coastal village in rural Japan, fated to become a fisherman like his father. But in just one night, Taro's world is turned upside down - and his destiny is changed forever. Skilled in the art of silent and deadly combat, ninjas are the agents of powerful nobles who rule sixteenth-century Japan. So why did a group of these highly trained assassins creep into a peasant's hut and kill Taro's father? And why did one ninja rescue Taro from their clutches, saving his life at enormous cost? Now on the run with this mysterious saviour and his best friend Hiro, Taro is determined to learn the way of the ninja to avenge his father's death. But if they are to complete their perilous journey, Taro must first evade the wrath of the warring Lords, decipher an ancient curse, resist forbidden love - and come to terms with the blood-soaked secrets of a life lived in moonlight.
If there was ever a case for judging a book by its cover, then Blood Ninja would be the primary evidence. I first saw this in the Corvus Books online catalogue and it caught my eye immediately, then when a copy arrived from the nice people at Corvus it literally took my breath away. This is by far my favourite cover of 2010 so far (elbowing Mortlock into second place). The intricate red Japanese samurai design on the front is embossed and spot varnished, and contrasts wonderfully with the matt black background, and the whole packaged is finished off with black-edged pages. Stunning! And if you do tend to pre-judge a book by its cover then you will not be disappointed once you read the story within.
Vampires are cool. We are surrounded by them in books, TV and movies (and who knows, maybe in real life?). In my mind, ninjas are even more cool. But did you ever wonder how these normal men can perform such amazing feats of martial arts, infiltration, stealth and agility? Nick Lakes anwer to this is so obvious I am amazed it hasn't already been done to death in the various forms of media - all true ninjas are in fact vampires. So combine the two and surely you get super-cool? Hell yes!
Now that I have set this up to be such a great book, I think I had first better explain that this won't appeal to all boys. This book is set during Sixteenth Century feudal Japan and Nick Lake's prose is rich in detail - he has not simply paid lip service to this historical element. Thus, he describes passages of time in incense stick lengths (i.e. the time it would take an incense stick to burn), and other measurements such as distances are treated similarly. Nick Lake also use many Japanese words (italicised) for items throughout the story. Confident readers will have no problem with any of this, but boys who struggle may give up very quickly.
This is Horror Month at The Book Zone and when I first picked up this book I thought it would make a great addition to the genre theme. However, this is more martial arts adventure than horror. The vampire element takes something of a back seat for long passages in the story, emerging only when really necessary. I think the book is even better for this - Nick Lake could 'easily' have written an over-the-top vampire ninja horror story with blood dripping from every page but instead he shows restraint (until the final scenes that is, when it becomes something akin to a Quentin Tarantino Kill Bill bloodbath, not that there is anything wrong with this).
I say Nick Lake shows restraint, but that isn't to say that this book is not brutal in places. This is, after all, feudal Japan, when Samurai warlords were not shy in dispensing vicious punishments on their enemies (and sometimes their allies) and the ruling classes looked down on the peasant workers, and occasionally toyed with their lives if the mood suited. As a result of this there are many violent deaths in this story, and not all of them are secondary characters. I won't spoil things for you but the author is not afraid to kill off a seemingly main character in order to help the story progress or to provoke emotional reactions amongst his characters (and his readers).
Blood Ninja published by Corvus Books and is available to buy right now It is the first book in a trilogy, with book two due out at the same time next year, and I can't wait. Next week i will be publishing an interview that Nick Lake kindly did for The Book Zone, and hopefully giving away a couple of copies of Blood Ninja.