Saturday, 23 July 2011

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

Extent: 352 pages
Publisher: Puffin
Pub Date: 7th August 2008

August 1611. Jack Fletcher is shipwrecked off the coast of Japan - his beloved father and the crew lie slaughtered by ninja pirates.

Rescued by the legendary sword master Masamoto Takeshi, Jack's only hope is to become a samurai warrior. And so his training begins.

But life at the samurai school is a constant fight for survival. Even with his friend Akiko by his side, Jack is singled out by bullies and treated as an outcast.

With courage in his heart and his sword held high, can Jack prove himself and face his deadliest rival yet?

I'm going to come straight out and say I'm immensely excited to be reviewing the Young Samurai books, this is a massive undertaking for me because these books are the only books so far that have come close to stirring in me the same feelings that Harry Potter did so I want to do them justice. So, I'm getting the spurting on about how much I love the books over right now so you might actually get to read about why, to me, The Way Of The Warrior is such a great book. Here we go: I LOVE YOUNG SAMURAI! Ahem, OK, moving on...

I had a sneaky feeling I would like the Young Samurai books before I actually read The Way Of The Warrior. I'd done martial arts throughout my teenhood and had read Oriental Studies at uni so I have a pretty strong affinity with all things east and I'd been waiting for a very long time for a young adult title to come out in the UK that focused on the incredible cultures of the far east and particularly martial arts. And here it was as long last! Then there was the worry that the story would be disappointing so I began with some trepidation but I was only a few chapters in when I realised that this book was going to fit me perfectly, my very own tailored suit, or tailored story even.

The Way Of The Warrior essentially takes the age old, extremely engaging - and probably my favourite - plot type of success through perseverance and puts it in the fascinating and heavily under-used setting of early 17th century Japan. The hero, Jack, suddenly finds himself plunged into a completely alien situation where seemingly everyone is either suspicious of him or just plain despises him because he's a gaijin, a foreigner. Yet, despite all that, he pushes on to prove himself, to make friends and to show the doubters that he is worthy of being a samurai. Jack goes through an epic personal journey from being utterly defenseless, able only to look on as his father is brutally killed, to facing his father's murderer with true bushido.

Add to this an incredible writing style and characters that pop fully formed into your imagination and you have a recipe for one of my favourite books ever written. Probably one of Chris Bradford's sneakiest writing tricks is to end many chapters on a beginning which means that you end up reading long after you meant to stop. Who needs sleep when there are ninja attacking?! And that's the great thing about ninja, shrouded in mystery with almost mythical stealth and deadly fighting skills they make for pretty terrifying bad guys and none are more menacing than Bradford's top bad guy: Dragon Eye. He casts a shadow over every page like an irrepressible threatening presence so that when he does eventually make his appearance I can feel my heart pounding in fear. Dragon Eye, however, is only one of many interesting characters in The Way Of The Warrior and the relationships between the young samurai at the school have their ups and downs just like real friendships, giving them a great dynamic in the plot. The fraught relationship between Jack and his adopted brother, Yamato, is particularly captivating, one of the golden threads in the plot and a triumph for virtue and friendship.

As you read The Way Of The Warrior, you're looking through Jack's eyes and learning all about 17th century Japan, Japanese words and customs and begin to get an insight into the way of the samurai. You soon come to learn what I learnt as a teen doing karate and kung fu: being able to hit, kick or slash at someone does not make you a good warrior. Martial art is so much more than that. It's about bushido, it's about the seven virtues, it's about what the fighting skills do to you internally. It's about nurturing a good soul and becoming a wiser person and by the end of this book you feel positively sage-like, although you know your lessons have only just begun. The Way Of The Warrior does all this yet couches your training in a heart-pounding adventure and an exciting exploration of a land not taught about in UK schools. Jack's bushido is his greatest weapon against Dragon Eye, not his young fighting skills, but his greatest enemy has yet to be defeated...

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