Blood Ninja by Nick Lake (Blood Ninja series: Book 1)

8/10 Extremely well-written with a good basis in historical fact.

Japan, 1565
Taro has been brought up as a fisherman’s son. He will become a ninja, a silent assassin trained in the arts of death.
He will face samurai, warriors as sharply honed as the blade at their side. He will battle warlords for the title of Shogun.
But he will be in darkness, for no Blood Ninja can face the light of day.

First published in the USA in 2009 and the UK in 2010, Blood Ninja is the first book in a series set in feudal Japan, by Oxfordshire based author, Nick Lake. In addition to writing, Lake is an editorial director at HarperCollins children’s books and has a degree in English from Oxford University. Blood Ninja was inspired by his interest in the Far East, and by the fact that he is secretly a ninja vampire himself.

‘A fast paced, gripping book, with ninjas. It’s all I ask for, really.’ Conn Iggulden.

‘Blatantly brilliant...A thrilling and action packed tale of honour, duty and destiny.’ Derek Landy

‘A stroke of literary genius.’ Daily Telegraph

Blood Ninja is a work of historical fantasy, set in the Sengoku Period of feudal Japan. Otherwise known as The Period of Warring Kingdoms, it was a time of internal strife, where warlords vied for supremacy. The conflict between Lord Oda Nobunaga and Lord Tokugawa Ieyasu forms the backdrop to the story of a young boy, Taro and his quest to discover both his past and his future.

Lake uses a familiar and very simplistic plot, Taro’s father is murdered, but he is rescued by a stranger who becomes his martial arts master. He then has to undergo a period of training before seeking vengeance on the person who ordered the attack on his family.

There are two elements that separate this book from the norm. The first is the setting and the second is the fantasy provided by vampire ninjas.

For the setting, the author has done his homework; his interest in historical Japan is obvious. There are plenty of cultural references but the story does not get bogged down with unfamiliar terms. It might have been nice to have a map included at the start of the book, so that the reader could properly engage with the journey taken by Taro and his friends, but it does not really detract from the quality of the writing. The scenes are well realised and draw the reader into the landscape of feudal Japan. It doesn’t bear comparison to the level of detail included in James Clavell’s Shogun, which I would put forward as a benchmark for historical fiction set in this era. However, there is enough here to satisfy fans of the time period and setting.

The author has taken license a couple of times, which did grate slightly, although it may not matter to the majority of readers. First, the story is set in 1565, but Lord Tokugawa Ieyasu did not take that name until 1567, so the Tokugawa clan did not exist until this point. Second, early on, Shusaku states that Oda defeated Musashi. However, Miyamoto Musashi was not born until 1584.

That being said, Lake has skilfully created a vivid, interesting and accessible land for the reader.

The second strand, vampire ninjas, is an interesting take on what is fast becoming an overpopulated theme in fiction today. You cannot go into a bookshop without tripping over books full of gorgeous vampires and swooning teenage girls – the majority of which should have Band and indeed, Wagon, written in big red capital letters on the cover.

In my opinion there have been four main contributors to the way that vampires are perceived in popular fiction. It began with Bram Stoker’s Dracula, followed by Anne Rice and Interview with the Vampire. Joss Whedon made vampires accessible to television with Buffy the Vampire Slayer and finally, Stephanie Meyer with Twilight.

Of the four, Lake’s work is most likely to appeal to fans of Buffy, there is a lot of action, martial arts and weapons but not enough depth to appeal to Stoker / Rice fans. There is also a complete absence of Meyer’s unrequited longing and teenage angst.

Having a lead character who is both a vampire and a ninja is a nice idea and a good hook. It would have been a great story if he was the only one – or one of a handful, unfortunately in the first few pages the reader is told that every single ninja is a vampire – so the legendary stealth and assassin skills are not those of men, but of supernatural origin. All of the ninja being undead cheapens them as an order. Part of the appeal of ninja in the real world is that they are human beings who can do extraordinary things because of years of training. It also ruins the hook – the hero becomes one of many.

I think it would have been better if Taro wasn’t a vampire at all – just a ninja or samurai, who was being hunted by vampires – putting human training, skill and resourcefulness against supernatural powers. As it stands it makes it difficult for the reader to relate to him, or to really get on his side.

It is generally accepted in vampire lore, that they are stronger and faster than humans – Lake does not challenge this, but the majority of his vampires are treated in a similar way to ‘nameless guards’ in a Star Trek away team. Less, would definitely have been more, in my opinion.

The other thing that I didn’t like is that everyone seems to be quite blasé about becoming a vampire as if becoming an assassin and a blood drinker is something to aspire to – despite the fact that this is a direct contradiction to the honour code that could be expected among the Japanese.

In conclusion, this book is extremely well written, with a good basis in historical fact, however it is let down by the overly simplistic plot and the fact that all of the ninjas are vampires, rather than just a chosen few.

If I was asked, what sets this book aside from others in the genre, the answer would be, quite simply ‘it has vampire ninjas in it.’ So if that is your thing, you will most likely enjoy it. Otherwise, I would suggest looking elsewhere for your next read.

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1 positive reader review(s) for Blood Ninja

2 positive reader review(s) in total for the Blood Ninja series series


Nick Lake's Blood Ninja series series

Blood Ninja

Blood Ninja series: Book 1

Lord Oda's Revenge

Blood Ninja series: Book 2

Blood Ninja reader reviews

from New Zealand

An extremely good book, well writen with good historical facts. It was a fluke that I got the book and I am so glad I got it, it is one of the best books I've read and I've read a few of this type of book. First book in a series of 3 and a great start. Very gripping and hard to put down. I loved it.

8.3/10 from 2 reviews

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