I have found it very difficult to choose a Book Zone Book of the Month for June. Not because there was a huge number of books released this month, but more because there were two that I enjoyed so much it seemed unfair to choose one over the other. These two books are Death Cloud by Andrew Lane (the first in his new Young Sherlock Holmes series) and the second Hattori Hachi book by Jane Prowse. I came very close to biting the bullet and picking both of them, however I am not going to be a rule-breaker - in the words of Connor McLeod (of the Clan McLeod) "There can be only one!" and that one is Hattori Hachi: Stalking The Enemy.
This has been a very busy month at work so despite finishing this book some time ago I just haven't had the time to write a review for it yet. Stalking The Enemy is the second book from Jane Prowse featuring her teenage ninja heroine Hattie Jackson. I read the first in the series, The Revenge of Praying Mantis, earlier this year and if you read my review you will very quickly find out why I loved it so much. This sequel has since been very high up on my 'can't wait for it to be published' list and I was really happy to receive a copy from Piccadilly Press, and incredibly flattered when I saw that a quote from my review of the first book had made it to the back cover. However, as I opened it I couldn't help but worry.... what if I didn't like the sequel?
Obviously, the fact that I have made it my Book of the Month is evidence already that I really enjoyed it. Is it as good as the first book though? Definitely not...... in my opinion it is even better! There are more ninja villains, more ninja fights and more super-cool ninja gadgets and weapons. The characters of Hattori and her friends are developed further, including her father, of whom we saw fairly little in the first book in this series. There are also more revelations about Hattori's Japanese heritage, and what part she has to play in her role as the Hattori Golden Child and her family's ongoing war against the evil Kataki. I was right to be excited about reading this book.
The Revenge of Praying Mantis has a fairly linear plot - Hattie's mum goes missing, Hattie discovers she is descended from a long line of ruling-class ninjas, Hattie gets trained by the little old lady who runs the launderette downstairs from where she lives, and so on. There are also a number of twists and turns to keep the reader guessing, the tension building and the story from being far from predictable. However, Stalking The Enemy really ups the ante as far as twists and turns are concerned, and neither Hattie nor the reader really have much of a clue as to just what is going to happen next. Is Toby on the side of good or evil? Where are Hattie's mother and Yazuki? Why is the Kielder area so important to the evil Raven and his Kataki warriors? And just who is the mysterious jonin who is issuing the instructions to the various players on the side of good?
As with Praying Mantis we are introduced to a number of Japanese words throughout the book and although the words jonin, chunin and genin are unfamiliar to the majority of children who will read this book, the concepts behind them are not so strange. A jonin is the head of a ninja mission; he (or she) passes instructions to the field-operatives (or genin) via middle-men (known as a chunin). This way many operatives can be working towards a shared final objective without knowing the full plan, or even whether there are any other ninjas involved, and therefore if they are captured and tortured there is no chance of them being able to compromise their fellow operatives. This use of cells is pretty much identical to how modern day terrorists operate, and Jane Prowse's use of this in her plot is the key to making the story as tense and exciting as it is. Hattie is constantly questioning her actions, wondering whether they are correct as far as the 'big plan' is concerned, or will her next move actually jeopardise everything? The fact that Hattie doesn't know means that we as readers are also very much in the dark - make sure you hold on tight as the edge of your seat may just give way!
If there was ever a list of books that could be used to persuade boys that female main characters can be worth reading about then this would not only be on that list, it would be up there battling away for the top spot. If I asked a group of boys what they want in a book they would answer action, adventure, fights, great characters (I know this... I have asked them, and one of even replied ninjas!). I criticised Praying Mantis for having a girly cover which may prevent boys from even picking it off a shelf - hopefully the blue cover of Stalking The Enemy may help remedy this. The quote from my review of Praying Mantis that Piccadilly Press so kindly used on the back of this book read "As thrilling an action story as anything written by Anthony Horowitz, Robert Muchamore or Joe Craig" and I stand by this completely. The only problem is that now I probably have to wait another year for the third instalment, and next time Hattie and her friends and family are heading to the heart of ninja-land - Japan. How exciting!
Hattori Hachi: Stalking The Enemy by Jane Prowse is published by Piccadilly Press and is available in stores now. Go on..... it is well worth your time.