Wednesday, 10 August 2011

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

Extent: 320 pages
Publisher: Puffin
Pub Date: 3rd March 2011

August, 1613. Bruised and battered, Jack Fletcher wakes up in a roadside inn wrapped only in a dirty kimono. He has lost everything, including his memory of what happened.

Determined to discover the truth, Jack goes on a quest to retrieve his belongings - his precious swords, his friend Akiko's black pearl and most important of all, his father's prize possession. Relying on his samurai and ninja training, Jack realises The Ring of Water is the key to his survival.

But with only a washed up Ronin - a masterless samurai - for help, what will Jack manage to find? What will he lose? And what will he have to sacrifice?

Well, it appears that, for storylines, Japan is the country that just keeps on giving and fortunately for me, Chris Bradford is the author that just keeps on receiving. I love the premise of this story: Jack wakes up to find everything gone, including his memory of what happened and he has to gradually put his life back together. Cue thrilling adventures and wonderful new characters.

In The Ring of Water, we meet a brand new kind of Japanese warrior – a ronin. I’ve only snatched glimpses so far in my life to tell me what ronin are, and in those glimpses I’ve seen them as mysterious, untrustworthy types and from what I’ve learnt about bushido and the value of loyalty, they don’t strike me as very good samurai. Despite my misgivings, the eternally drunk Ronin has actually turned out to be my favourite character so far in the series, and it’s precisely because of his mystery. His background is patchy and at best hinted to but for some reason he pledges his loyalty and help to Jack and continues to surprise the reader with his abilities. The little thief girl Hana is also a mystery character with a murky background but she again is a real and surprising testament to loyalty.

I think in this book I finally figured out why Jack continues to thrive in all his adventures. I was worried for him when he had to leave all his friends from the samurai school and strike out on his own. The ninja village should probably have given me a clue because even there, where samurai are hated, he managed to make friends but it just smacked me in the face in The Ring of Water. So quickly did Ronin and Hana – two roguish outcasts with questionable integrity – give their loyalty to Jack that it made me realise that this is Jack’s greatest weapon: it’s not his ability to fight, it’s his ability to find true friends amongst all the hatred and prejudice. And it’s his friendship that brings out the best in the other characters, they let go of the emotions that are causing them harm and rediscover how to be a good person who makes the right choices because that’s exactly what Jack does. I’m so glad that Chris Bradford has brought back Kazuki at this point as it just emphasises the point: Kazuki is the opposite of Jack, he chooses his friends because of their background and status but Jack gives his friendship to anyone worthy of it, even if their background is unknown. That’s why Jack makes friends whereas Kuzuki just makes bodyguards, it’s a false loyalty.

Where The Ring of Earth was a test of Jack’s physical abilities, The Ring of Water is a test of our hero’s mental agility and fortitude. He must find clues, solve riddles and cope with the distress of returning to Kyoto and seeing his beloved Niten Ichi Ryu samurai school in ruins. I honestly can’t get enough of Young Samurai as every book gives you so many more new things to explore, each chapter is like opening a present and Chris Bradford gives wonderful explanations for strange new aspects of Japanese culture and embellishes the scant knowledge you might already have – I now fully understand the rules of Go. I’m starting to worry that at some point the books are going to undergo the infamous “second album syndrome” but I just don’t think that’s possible somehow, the first five books have not disappointed me on any account, in fact they have done the opposite. I would quite happily keep reading them to the day I die!


  1. I definitely need to read these. I love all things Japanese. I wonder if they're published in the US. I assume so.

  2. If you love Japan (like me!) you'll love these. I just checked and they are published by Disney Hyperion in the US.