Blood Ninja, by Nick Lake
Ninjas. Vampires. Put them together and what have you got? Pure fantasy gold, it would appear. For many people, the combination of these two tropes, even without the ongoing Stephanie Meyer-induced vampire-mania, would be enough to get them to buy Blood Ninja, whatever the reviews say, but there’s an added bonus: this is really a very well written book, and hugely entertaining.
Taro has been raised as a fishermen by his poor family, but it would appear fate has something else in store for him: when his family is set upon by a crew of black-clad assassins, only the appearance of another ninja saves Taro and his friend Hiro from a brutal end to their young lives – and once on the run, there is no going back. Their rescuer, the Ninja Shukasu, must get them to safety with his clan – and Taro and Hiro have much to learn about what it is to be a njina and a vampire: like classic vampires, they can be killed by light but are almost invulnerable to most harm, a case of their profession and their physical characteristics being an almost perfect match.
Once secure in the ninja clan’s secret extinct volcano lair (very James Bond), Taro discovers much more about himself and his destiny, while having to negotiate some very tricky moral dilemmas along the way, which he does with aplomb, although his youth sometimes leads him to rash judgments. As his ninja skills develops, Taro, Hiro and Shukasu set out on a dangerous mission to the castle of the Lord Oda, one of the great Samurai who is battling for ultimate control with the Lord Tokugawa. The mission does not go to plan, but what transpires will have a major effect on Taro’s future – and will clearly be the subject of a future book or books.
Blood Ninja is a pacy tale that seems to do a wonderful job of capturing the essence of feudal Japan, juxtaposing the martial virtues of the Samurai ruling caste with the sneaky ways of the vampire ninjas – except that it’s quickly apparent that the honour code of the Samurai has given them a passport to abuse the ordinary people of Japan, while the ninjas (at least those that Taro falls in with) are the only people not taken in by the elevated status of their lords. As a book for teenaged readers, it’s gripping and engaging, but in all honesty, if I hadn’t known it was written for that market (by the editorial director of HaperCollins Children’s Books), I would probably not have realised the author’s intent, as it’s not remotely patronising and pulls few punches when it comes to violence and death, especially ritual suicide. A very enjoyable tale indeed.
You can read a prequel story and a ghost story that was cut from the final book at www.bloodninja.co.uk.