A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this is a story about samurai in feudal Japan, so there is much sword-fighting, and many injuries and deaths, including two boys. Readers will learn a bit of history as Jack begins to learn the customs and language. And they will find him an easy character to root for.
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What's the story?
In the 17th century, a British boy is marooned in Japan when his ship is attacked by ninja pirates led by Dragon Eye, and everyone else is killed -- including his father. Taken in by a samurai lord, Masamoto, whose son was also killed by Dragon Eye, Jack learns the Japanese language and customs, and is enrolled in Masamoto's samurai school, where he learns the Way of the Warrior. But Dragon Eye is determined to get his hands on Jack's father's log book, and will kill Jack or anyone else who stands in his way.
Is it any good?
Cross James Clavell's Shogun with The Karate Kid and you'll get an idea of what this book is like. The first half is all Shogun: Brit marooned in Japan, taken in by powerful lord, and befriended by beautiful girl begins to learn the customs and language, finds it's all too easy to offend, has to contend with the Portuguese Jesuits who want to keep the Brits out, and finds he has an affinity for this strange land. Then it goes all Karate Kid, as Jack is bullied, learns martial arts skills, fights back, and ends up in a tournament. There's even a super-secret move.
All right, so it's derivative. And the writing is a bit clunky at times. But it's a rip-roaring story, gripping from beginning to end, with a bit of history, the fascination of a strange, and strangely magnetic, culture to learn about, a stalwart hero to root for, and an exceptionally satisfying ending. The author may be a first-timer, but he knows his martial arts (the jacket copy says he has a "black belt in Zen Kyo Shin Tai-jutsu, the secret fighting art of the ninja"). This is the first in a proposed series, and young readers will be eager for the next installment. A very successful debut.
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