Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Review: The Black Lotus by Kieran Fanning

Ghost, Cormac and Kate are not like other kids.

Ghost can turn invisible, Cormac can run up walls and Kate can talk to animals - all abilities which make them perfect recruits for the Black Lotus, a training school for ninjas. But when the Moon Sword - a source of unimaginable power - is stolen by samurai, the three are forced to put their new skills to the test in sixteenth-century Japan ...

Add too many ingredients to a bread or cake on the Great British Bake Off and you'll have to suffer the wrath of Paul Hollywood. Do the same when writing a book and you may not face wrath, but it will make your story appear disjointed and confused. Kieran Fanning's debut middle grade novel, The Black Lotus, has young people with super powers, martial arts, fantasy swords with magical powers, ninjas and samurai - that's a hell of a lot of ingredients for a literary cake yet somehow Fanning pulls it off to produce a mouthwatering adventure story that will satisfy the appetites of action-hungry young readers.

The Black Lotus is set in an alternate 21st Century planet Earth, where much of the world is part of President Goda's samurai empire. London, Paris, Rio... all are part of Goda's empire and it seems that the USA is one of the few nations that lies outside of his influence. For the time being at least.

We are initially introduced to this world through the lives of three teenagers from very diverse backgrounds, although all three have at least two things in common - they all believe themselves to be orphans and all three of them have a special power. Ghost lives in a Rio de Janeiro favela, and can turn himself invisible if he concentrates hard enough; Cormac lives in a Hinin House, or orphanage, in Ballyhook, Ireland and can run so fast that he is able to run up vertical walls; and Kate lives on the streets of NYC having run away from a children's home. Kate's special gift is that of communicating with animals, literally speaking with them. All three think they have managed to keep their special abilities, however all three have come to the attention of the Black Lotus, a group of ninja freedom fighters who have spent centuries fighting against the totalitarian rule of Goda (yes, you read me correctly - NINJA FREEDOM FIGHTERS). Soon the three find themselves teaming up to join this fight, and on an adventure that sees them travelling back to 16th Century Japan to retrieve a magical sword that goad could use to subjugate the rest of the world.

To describe The Black Lotus as cinematic would be a disservice to Kieran, as to me it can imply that a story relies far too much on action set-pieces, and yet this book would make a damn fine action/adventure film. The Black Lotus certainly isn't just a chain of action scenes with little in between them. In fact, although the action scenes are fast-paced and exciting to read (and are full of NINJA martial arts wonderfulness), it is the relationship between the three young heroes that makes this story work so well. Each one has different back histories and thus different motivations, and although, for plot reasons, we find out more about one of the three than the others, it is still very easy for the reader to empathise with all three.

The Black Lotus is yet another fab addition to the plethora of great middle grade books that have been published in the UK in 2015. It is certainly a book that will have young readers clamouring for a sequel, although I would guess that we have quite a wait for that ahead of us as The Black Lotus was only released two weeks ago. 

And did I say that it has lots of ninjas?

My thanks go to the fab people at Chicken House for sending me a copy to read.

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