Book review: Shadow of the Ninja by Andrew Matthews

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While filmgoers are getting their kicks out of The Karate Kid, a thrilling novel about the adventures of a young samurai warrior is packing a knockout punch for young readers.

Shadow of the Ninja is the all-action sequel to Way of the Warrior and takes us on a thrilling trip to 16th century Japan where ruthless warriors, flashing swords, cut-throat villains and damsels in distress were a part of everyday life.

Matthews packs his brilliant book with the blood-curdling battles, exotic landscapes and the curious customs of the Land of the Rising Sun where ferocious warlords possessed the power of life and death.

At the heart of the breathtaking acrobatics and heart-rending romance is Jimmu, a young samurai warrior who combines his martial skills with the peaceful arts of prayer and meditation.

It makes him a formidable fighter ... but his first duty is always to obey his master, Lord Ankan, whose beautiful daughter Takeko has tugged at his heartstrings for years.

Ankan is facing a terrible dilemma – his arch enemies, the Takeda, have laid siege to a neighbouring warlord’s castle and he must send his troops to help.

But there is treachery afoot because Lord Sabura, who is pledged to marry Takeko, has made her a prisoner at his castle and will kill her if Ankan dares to support his new allies, the Takeda.

As a samurai, Ankan cannot refuse to send his troops and behave dishonourably to his friend, even if it means forfeiting his daughter’s life – and Jimmu is under orders not to try to rescue her.

Determined to save Takeko or die in the attempt, Jimmu joins forces with a gang of ninja warriors – notorious, cold-blooded fighters, spies and assassins whom legend says can fly, walk on water and turn themselves into animals, plants and even shadows.

These mercenary warriors break all the rules of the strict samurai code but as he learns their mysterious skills, Jimmu gains a new respect for the stealth and bravery of the rebellious ninjas...

Shadow of the Ninja is a rollercoaster adventure with a twist in the tail; it is also a fascinating cultural history lesson and an exciting introduction to the customs and codes of the samurai warrior.

A top-class story guaranteed to capture the imagination of adventurous boys...

(Usborne, paperback, £5.99)