The Way of the Warrior
16th century Japan: a period of feuding samurai warlords. Ten-year-old Jimmu is woken one night by his father’s samurai bodyguard, Nichiren. His father has been convicted of treachery by Lord Ankan and must commit sappuku – the ritual disembowelling. Jimmu is forced to witness this. His mother has already taken poison. Nichiren tells the traumatized boy that his life’s aim is to avenge his father’s death by killing Lord Ankan and then committing sappuku in his turn.
Eight years later, Jimmu, now trained by Nichiren as a warrior, seeks out Lord Ankan and gets taken on as a guardsman. For the first time in his life, he makes friends and he admires Captain Muraki, his immediate superior. Then he notices that Lord Alkan loves his daughter, the pretty but wilful Takeko, and enjoys her company, as Jimmu himself does. Gradually, Jimmu begins to questions Nichiren’s wisdom and to wonder why his own parents were so cold and distant.
As Lord Alkan prepares for war, Jimmu is torn by conflicting loyalties. If he is to be free of the past, he must learn to judge people for himself and to make his own decisions.
I enjoyed this. The author uses deceptively simple writing to get across a very different culture. On the surface, the important qualities in a samurai warrior are obedience, emotional detachment and avoidance of shame but underneath lie other, deeper, qualities. The understanding which Lord Ankan brings to Jimmu’s dilemma shows him to be a man of mercy and integrity as well as justice.
The book is obviously aimed at boys, who should enjoy the fighting (personally, I could have done without the graphic disembowelling on page 5), though there is a nod towards romance with Jimmu’s growing relationship with Lady Takeko, perhaps to appeal to girls as well. For 12 plus.
Set in the 16th century, The Way of the Warrior is a thoroughly thought-provoking novel that you simply seem to glide through. Even for those who aren’t massive fans of the adventure genre, this is a book that is well worth reading, with a plot about far more than just battle and honour. It addresses massive questions and ideas, such as whether it is possible to be both good and evil and whether you should believe everything that you hear – I couldn’t put it down. It’s short, which in my eyes is both a pro and con. On the one hand, it was a quick read which is always good for a page-turner, but on the other, it did leave me wanting more and I felt as though it could have delved deeper into its underlying philosophical side. And been slightly less predictable; I don’t want to give too much away, but a fairy tale ending isn’t everyone’s cup of tea – it was still worth getting there, though, just for the twists and turns of the journey. A refreshing read.
191 (UK), 192 (US)