Monday, 8 August 2011

Review: Young Samurai: The Ring of Earth - Chris Bradford

Extent: 336 pages
Publisher: Puffin
Pub Date: 5th August 2010

Jack Fletcher is on the run.

With no sensei to guide him, he has just his wits and his swords against many new and unknown enemies, as he journeys along the treacherous road to the port of Nagasaki and perhaps home... But the Shogun's samurai are hot on his trail. Barely escaping their clutches, Jack runs headlong into a trap. Kidnapped by ninja and led to their village deep in the mountains, Jack has no means of escape.

The only question is who will kill him first - the ninja or samurai?

I had a Young Samurai break after They Way Of The Dragon and I have to say I have sorely missed Jack, and with three new books out I decided it was high time I spent some quality time with my favourite hero again. As Kung Fu Panda Po would say, I am blinded by awesomeness!

In classic Chris Bradford style, The Ring Of Earth hits you with the good stuff on page one and doesn’t stop hitting you until you fall bruised and battered onto the last full stop. The samurai school is gone, his guardian Masamoto is banished and he has left the survivors amongst his friends to attempt a perilous journey back to England. For the first time, the young samurai Jack is utterly alone and I just had to wonder how the story was going to recover from that. But it more than recovers, it sprouts new limbs of awesomeness and my heart is still pounding with excitement just thinking about it. As a reader you’ve been brought up so far to perceive the ninja as a ruthless and unprincipled enemy, encapsulated by the merciless Dragon Eye, but in this book it is the ninja that take the spotlight. The author lets his experience in the ninja arts shine through and reveals that not all is what it seems with these masters of stealth. Chris Bradford has really matured Jack after his experiences in The Way Of The Dragon and this is evident through Jack’s reasoning. Bushido has become who he is and it is through this that he makes his decisions and justifies his actions and in so doing he has already got the heart of a ninja. Bradford, as ever, is brutal with Jack’s new training but the strength of his writing shows through his knowledge of Jack’s character and his unbending enforcement of that character. All his characters get this same treatment, truly he writes characters like Mozart composes music or Da Vinci paints masterpieces, they are so real and complete and convincingly written that they just sit almost tangible in my imagination. They could be standing around me, talking as I read.

With the start of a new series, Jack is back to basics again and you learn with him as he takes instruction in a whole new world. Honestly, I feel like I’ve gone through it all with him and have a sudden urge to hang out, concealed in the branches of a tree. Bradford never ceases to amaze me with his ability to keep the story fresh and actually very fascinating. I’m sure I couldn’t learn more about the art of ninjutsu if I read an encyclopaedia on the subject. Once again Jack finds he has to prove himself. Just as he had been accepted by the samurai at the Niten Ichi Ryu, he has to start all over again with a new set of suspicious people but if you know Jack as well as I do, you’ll know there is no such thing as giving up. This is exactly the kind of story that makes me believe I can take on the world and win. I just love it!

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