Thursday, 28 July 2011

Review: Young Samurai: The Way Of The Dragon - Chris Bradford

Extent: 448
Publisher: Puffin
Pub Date: 4th march 2010

June 1613. Japan is threatened with war and Jack is facing his greatest battle yet.

Samurai are taking sides and, as the blood begins to flow, Jack's warrior training is put to the ultimate test. His survival - and that of his friends - depends upon him mastering the Two Heavens, the secret sword technique of the legendary samurai Masamoto Takeshi. But first Jack must recover his father's prize possession from the deadly ninja Dragon Eye.

Can Jack defeat his ruthless enemy? Or will the ninja complete his mission to kill the young samurai...

The first trio of Young Samurai books reaches its climax in The Way Of The Dragon and this is actually a pretty harrowing climax. Gone is the safety of the training dojo, gone are the wooden training swords and gone is Jack’s most prized possession. The samurai face a war on a massive scale and Jack must do everything in his power to find his father’s rutter if he has any chance of saving his little sister. This time, it’s serious.

As a gaijin, a foreigner, Jack is actually part of the cause of the coming war; the western presence that showed up at the beginning of The Way Of The Warrior is back and takes a central role in this third book. The Portuguese Jesuits may believe they come from a far more advanced civilisation and their mission is to enlighten this backward race but they could not be more wrong. Each page that lingers on the character of Father Bobadillo feels like it is heavy with poison, the Jesuit’s presence is toxic to the beautiful and balanced way of life that already exists in Japan. It’s just so frustrating that many samurai cannot see the good foreigners through all the bad ones, Jack has left the western world behind and adopted Japan but still he is discriminated against. I guess that’s just old school racism for you but Chris Bradford plays this fraught situation out with great tension and moments of inspired hope.

I’m so glad Bradford spends so long on the build up to the great battle because he ekes out in great detail the kind of internal turmoil and terror that grips an inexperienced warrior as he stands and waits to join the fight. It’s the mixture of fast paced action and gradually applied dread that makes the Young Samurai books so exquisite and this moment before the battle is the most terrifying experience I have ever had in a book. I could actually feel my nerves tingling and my adrenaline rushing and my body prepared my cowardly self to run where those young kids had to fight. It’s just an incredible piece of writing that builds the tension and lifts the spirits with an unbending hope and suddenly your faith in humanity is catapulted into the stratosphere.

I’m not going to give anything away but the ending is a real testament to friendship and I think that’s what this book really examines. It’s about the sacrifices that people make for their friends and the enduring strength of the virtue of loyalty that is at the basis of bushido. A true warrior is not a lonely one. I honestly felt emotionally drained by the end of this book and just distraught at the way things played out but that is not a bad thing. Actually it shows just what a superb writer Chris Bradford is, the range of his ability is astonishing and I wouldn’t change anything because I wouldn’t not want to go through what I did as I read The Way Of The Dragon. In my opinion, it’s a masterpiece and I’m just so glad I picked these books up because there would genuinely be a Jack shaped hole in my life if I hadn’t. I am over the moon that there is a new series of Young Samurai and if I could I would lock Chris Bradford up in my cupboard (in a non-creepy way) and command him to write for all eternity because I do not want these books to end.

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