Tuesday, 26 July 2011

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

Extent: 400
Publisher: Puffin
Pub Date: 2nd July 2009

One year of training in samurai school and Jack Fletcher is in real trouble…

Not only is he struggling to prepare for the Circle of Three, an ancient ritual that tests a samurai’s courage, skill and spirit to the limit, he’s caught in a running battle with fellow student Kazuki and his gang.

But these are the least of Jack’s problems. He knows his deadly rival – the ninja Dragon Eye - could strike at any moment. Jack possesses the very thing he will kill for.

Can Jack master the Way of the Sword in time to survive a fight to the death?

Jack has spent a year at the Niten Ichi Ryu training as a samurai, but having proven himself to his friends, now he has to prove himself against the ultimate samurai test: the Circle of Three.

The great thing about Chris Bradford’s Young Samurai books is that no matter how much he has told you in the last book or how much you think you have learnt, the next book is jam packed with new lessons and new experiences. Each subsequent book you pick up is like a brand new packet of crisps, bursting with new flavours you’ve never tasted before. OK, I did just compare a book to a packet of crisps… What I mean is, in The Way Of The Sword, Bradford brings the reader a whole new storyline (the flavour bit) nestled in the overall plot of the series whilst developing the story strings that are attached from The Way Of The Warrior (the potato bit). Jack must learn a new martial art, learn to fight blind, perfect the art of origami and interpret the lessons of virtue through the challenges he faces. That’s what I really love about the Young Samurai books: it feels like the author couldn’t possibly tell you everything there is to know about being a samurai and all the training and lessons involved but he’s going to give it a damn good try and he succeeds without making it seem forced into the storyline. The story takes precedence but each chapter is so neatly packed that all the training becomes part of the story and at the end you understand how all that training comes together.

The relationships between the characters continue to deepen and although Jack now has a strong group of friends around him, he is faced with the challenge of the possibility that his closest friend, Akiko, may be deceiving them all. Jack’s arch rival, Kazuki, also takes a turn for the worse when he creates his black scorpion gang in an attempt to rid Japan of foreigners. Kazuki is so cleverly written because, despite the fact that he’s on a level if not slightly better than Jack in terms of his fighting skills, he is actually far less of a samurai than Jack is. Jack has bushido coming out of his ears but Kazuki concentrates so much on perfecting his ability to defeat someone that he has completely neglected to nurture his bushido, and probably will never have the ability to gain bushido as he is too consumed by hatred.

In the end, that’s what The Way Of The Sword is all about. This second book is where Jack – and the reader – really come to understand what bushido is. Kazuki may get to his destination faster but what has he sacrificed on the way? It doesn’t come easily to Jack, however, he learns the meaning of the virtue of honesty the hard way and nearly loses everything because he didn’t have the guts to tell the truth. This is a fantastic sequel to The Way Of The Warrior, the story is faultless, I wouldn’t change one word of it, and once again I feel just a little bit wiser than I was before I read it.

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