Taro was just a fisherman's son...but then his father was murdered and he was forced to become a Blood Ninja, fated to live by night, doomed to live on the blood of others. But he has had his revenge. He has killed Lord Oda, the warlord who had his father assassinated. But Lord Oda is not quiet in his grave. He has found a way to reach beyond death and Taro and his friends soon find themselves facing samurai armies, a deadly enemy from the past and strange ghostly creatures who suck life from the living. Dangerously weakened, Taro, must recover the one object that Lord Oda was desperate to find before he died: the Buddha Ball, the source of limitless power. But if Taro is to complete his perilous quest - to save himself, his friends, his mother, and the girl he loves - he must go to hell and back and face his arch enemy once again. For Lord Oda has returned - as a Blood Ninja.
Blood Ninja by Nick Lake was one of my favourite reads of 2010. For me, everything was right about it. For a start, how could I not like a book where ninjas were vampires, this fact immediately explaining the secret behind their legendary powers. Add to this a story rich with historical detail, fantastic action set pieces, great characters and the occasional gory death and I felt that Nick Lake had delivered the perfect package for boys and girls who are confident readers and want something a little more challenging in their reading diet. And let's not forget that amazing book cover by Hydro74.
Eighteen months on and I am now ready here with my review of the sequel, subtitled Lord Oda's Revenge. In my mind there was a lot riding on this book - would Nick Lake be able to sustain the magic over a second volume? The answer, happily, is a resounding yes. Lord Oda's Revenge has everything its predecessor had, and more and I am slightly surprised that neither of the two books have appeared on the major children's book prize lists so far. Perhaps, like Rick Yancey's brilliant Monstrumologist books, it is just too good for the intended audience who have possibly been dumbed down by the flood of average YA titles teenagers have had to endure over the past few years?
The book picks up the story not long after the close of Blood Ninja. Taro is pining for news about his mother, whilst also being confused about where is relationship with Hana is heading. After all, although he is the lost son of Lord Tokugawa, in his mind he is really the son of a lowly fisherman and his wife, and subsequently lacks the social skills and awareness of etiquette expected of a high born Lord. Together with Hana, and his best friend Hiro, Taro sets off on a quest to find his mother and retrieve the Buddha Ball, even if he has to go to hell and back. Standing in his way is evil personified, the vile Lord Oda, as well as Yukiko, who is hell-bent on a little revenge.
The stand out element of this book for me is the character development. The middle book in a trilogy is always going to feel as if something is lacking, as the story has already been established, and no reader is going to expect a completely satisfying ending that ties off all the loose ends. Nick Lake does what George Lucas did with The Empire Strikes Back, and that is direct the reader's attention to the characters, to make up for this ultimate lack of reward come the final page. I challenge anyone who reads this book not to develop feelings for the main characters - Nick Lake really made me care about them as they faced trial after trial.
In my review of the first book I likened it more to an adventure story than a horror. I am pleased to report that the blood splatter had increased slightly in this sequel, although never to a point where it overshadows the storyline. I would not be surprised if some enterprising artist over in Japan picked this story up to turn it into a manga series. It is not an area on which I am an expert, but the few manga books I have read suggest that this story would fit perfectly within their ranks.
For some reason these books have been released earlier in the US than over here in the UK, and I wonder whether Nick Lake secured a publishing deal over there first. It isn't something that bothers me as we got the best book covers by far - just go onto Amazon US and compare, I am sure you will agree with me. However, according to that very same internet store the third book in the series is not scheduled to be out in the US until August 2012, and considering we didn't get the UK edition of Lord Oda's Revenge until a good eight months after it was published in the State we are in for a pretty long wait to find out what happens next.
Blood Ninja 2: Lord Oda's Revenge was published in the UK at the beginning of August, complete with another stunning Hydro74 cover design. My thanks go to the good people at Corvus for sending me a copy to review.