Lord Oda's Revenge by Nick Lake (Blood Ninja series: Book 2)

(8.0/10) It could have been a classic, but the vampires let it down.

Japan, 1566

Taro is a Blood Ninja, a silent assassin trained in the arts of death but doomed to live on the blood of others. He has killed his mortal foe: Lord Oda.

But Lord Oda is not quiet in his grave. He has found a way to reach beyond death. He will have his revenge.

Taro will have to go to hell and back to face his arch enemy once again. For Lord Oda has returned...as a Blood Ninja.

First published in the USA in 2010 and the UK in 2011, Blood Ninja 2 – Lord Oda’s Revenge is the second book in a series based 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.

‘The night has a new hero.’ Darren Shan

‘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

I reviewed the original Blood Ninja by Nick Lake and was left with mixed feelings about the book. The level of research and detail about Feudal Japan was generally excellent. There were a few areas where the author had taken licence with the historical timeline, but Lake’s interest and knowledge of this period came across very well.

The second thing that made the original stand out from the crowd, was that it was about vampire ninjas. However, when reading it, the early promise of this idea did not quite develop as I would have liked. When added to a plotline that was both simplistic and predictable, it ended up being a decent read, but no more than that.

Sometimes, with a series of books it can take a writer a while to get into the swing of things and my bookshelves are littered with examples of a sequel far exceeding the quality of the original book. Unfortunately, sometimes the opposite is true. I was therefore interested to see what would happen here and which category Blood Ninja 2 – Lord Oda’s Revenge would fall into.

The first thing to say about the book is that the back cover blurb is misleading. It states that Taro has to fight Lord Oda, who is now a Blood Ninja. That’s a great set up, the only problem is that it just isn’t true. Oda is many things, but he is never a Blood Ninja. Maybe I am being extra picky, but the back cover blurb is part of the marketing material for the book – but it is inaccurate and if I had bought the book based on that synopsis I would be rightly annoyed. Readers of this book will definitely be able to tell the difference between samurai and ninja. Oda is a samurai lord who has become a vampire. He is not a ninja.

This opens up my second major problem with this book (and the original) – how Lake deals with ninja vampires. One might consider that they are important, based on the name of the book and the synopsis, there is also a fair amount of leeway allowed to writers who are developing vampire lore. However, a reader will have certain expectations when vampires are mentioned. They do not have to be afraid of crosses and garlic, they don’t have to turn to dust when staked through the heart or turn into a bat and they especially don’t have to be sparkly!

What vampires do have to be is undead and drink blood.

As far as I am concerned, those are the basics, otherwise it’s not a vampire. Unfortunately Lake’s vampires are basically humans who drink blood to give themselves a ‘Super Mario’ style power-up. I do not buy into the fact that his ‘vampires’ can breathe, sleep and in one unforgettable underwater scene –drown.

Vampires can’t drown, they don’t breathe and they are already dead – Lake already gave us the rules in the first book – pieced through the heart or decapitation is the way his vampires cease to exist. A writer contradicting the rules of his own world is never a good idea.

Setting aside for a moment the fact that I don’t like the way the vampires are portrayed, I also have an issue around the unnatural ability of some of the human characters to do inhuman things – for example, Yukiko reads a book written by Musashi and adopts the twin sword style – then with a maximum of a few months training she can suddenly defeat Taro, who has beaten a sword saint – even though he is also a vampire with extra speed, strength, agility etc.

Hungry ghosts are another problem. Brilliant idea and I love the way that it was introduced into the story, but then all of a sudden, every character seems to have one, like they are the must have accessory for Feudal Japan.

When reading fantasy of any type, I am looking for consistency. If the writer says that ‘in my world X,Y,Z happens’ then that’s fine, I will buy into it. However, what does annoy me is when I get jarred out of the story by something that doesn’t add up. The other thing that makes me throw my hands up in frustration is when the writer creates an expectation, but then fails to deliver.

For example, the supposed death of Susaku in Blood Ninja which provided a hook to encourage readers to buy the sequel.

Taro put his hand on the slippery, bloody hilt of the sword and tried to pull it out. Even as he did it, he knew it was hopeless – the sword wouldn’t kill the ninja, but the sunlight would.

‘Leave it,’ said the ninja. ‘It’s too late for me. Find Musashi, the sword saint. Tell him I sent you. He will give you the skill you need.’

Leaving aside the issues around when Musashi lived that I outlined in my review of Blood Ninja, this raises an expectation of actions that Taro will be taking in the second book. Unfortunately, readers expecting Musashi to become Taro’s new teacher will be sadly disappointed.

It will probably seem from the above sections that I hated the book. Actually, I liked it. Nick Lake has built upon his strengths. The level of detail about Japanese life is incredible, down to phases and sayings, religious observances and of course, the martial arts terminology. He has captured the perfect blend, there is just enough detail to add weight and authenticity to the book, but not so much that it interrupts the story or causes the reader difficulties. The story itself is far more complex than before and written with a high level of skill.

Parts of this book are as good as anything I have read. The problem is that other parts made me want to shout in frustration.

It could have been a classic, but the vampires let it down.

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Nick Lake's Blood Ninja series series

Blood Ninja

Blood Ninja series: Book 1

Lord Oda's Revenge

Blood Ninja series: Book 2

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