A boy named Taro lives a nice but uneventful life in the village of Shirahama. Taro and his best friend Hiro dream of one day becoming samurai, although Taro’s desire is stronger than his friends. Then one night, Taro’s entire world unravels from a seemingly random attack on his family. His father is murdered and Taro has no idea why but he must leave his mother and run away with a mysterious ninja.
Taro’s protector is Shusaku, a master ninja and former samurai that is charged with keeping the boy alive. Shusaku must lead Taro and his loyal friend Hiro across the land to a secret cave where Shusaku’s clan lives and trains. Along the way they make friends, evade samurai, fight ronin and even help rescue a young lady.
Samurai, Ninja and Vampire – oh, my!
Blood Ninja is one of the few times when a seemingly random mashup of character types – vampire and ninja – really come together, while respecting each individually. This is not a lame attempt at humor or a strange Twilight meets Enter The Ninja train wreck.
Author Nick Lake blends the two in such a convincing way that, assuming vampires are real, it actually makes a lot of sense that a vampire would make a great ninja. Both vampire and ninja operate at night, in their own way they each seek blood, and both benefit from secrecy and the element of surprise.
I actually came across this treasure quite randomly. I was on a rare venture into Barnes & Noble to pick up a different book and I found myself browsing the young adult section. The title jumped out at me, the cover made me lustful and the description sealed the deal – I had to buy this book.
Not surprisingly, there is a lot of action. It is all well written and easy to follow while still being quite engaging. Lake wrote the scenes graphic enough to make them realistic but not excessively gory. There is a lot of description and detail about ninja and samurai which is cool. I would have liked to hear more about the vampire aspect as well. Taro has a special ability that enhances his vampirism and one vamp we meet along the journey can see the future. I’m curious what other abilities are out there.
There is a lot of political intrigue, history, culture and religion layered into the story which is nice. Those details do great justice to Japanese culture while also making the story more believable.
Blood Ninja has a strong focus on loyalty and friendship. Hiro and Taro have quite the bromance going on. At times it reminded me of Frodo and Sam in Lord of the Rings, minus the super awkward gazing that happened in Return of the King. Luckily, that’s offset by a potential romance between Taro and girl from the wrong side. I’m sure we’ll see how that plays out in book 2.
It’s funny that at the end of the story, Lake tips his hat to James Clavell’s amazing book – Shogun. I’ve read that book three times, the first time in 6th grade, and it is one of my favorite stories. It was how I learned what decapitation meant… Anyway, reading Blood Ninja reminded of Clavell’s work so enjoying it came easy. No worries though, Lake’s book only weighs in at 369 pages. Not Shogun’s 1,000+.
I came to expect one death since it is foreshadowed very directly. I’m rather fond of subtlety especially when it comes to foreshadowing a character death, so, Lake’s direct approach kind of annoyed me. However, my hope is that the death will harden Taro’s resolve and make him take this new-found responsibility more seriously. Before that death, one rather shocking character death didn’t seem entirely justified. It made me feel like that time I ran over a squirrel – half-sad and half-angry. After finishing the book, I can see why things turned out that way because the death becomes a motivator for another character. However, I liked that character so to have it go down that way was…frustrating.
One thing I absolutely did not like was the excessive use of italics (in the paperback version). Sometimes whole chapters are italicized which gets tiresome to read. Coming to a new chapter should be sufficient to let me know that the narrator has changed characters. Other than short, internal dialogue and sparsely used emphasis in normal dialogue, there is really no need for italics.
Overall, I am looking forward to picking up the sequel and continuing the series*. I love the setting of feudal Japan. I have always been a fan of vampires. Plus, who doesn’t think ninja are badass? Combine them all together, shake (not stir) and add a slice of political intrigue and you have Blood Ninja.
* Yes, I did just use italics. What?