Shadow of the Ninja

Written by Andrew Matthews
Review by Elizabeth Hawksley

Japan 1575, a country ruled by feuding warlords. In his second adventure, the young Samurai Jimmu finds his old master, Lord Ankan, in trouble. Ankan’s ally, Lord Nabunago, has called on him for military aid – help Ankan is bound in honour to give. But Ankan’s daughter, Takeko, has been captured by the ruthless Lord Sabura, ally of Lord Nabunago’s enemy. If Ankan goes to Lord Nabunago’s aid, then Takeko will die. Ankan, to whom honour means everything, has reconciled himself to his beloved daughter’s death.

A samurai’s duty is to obey his lord. But Jimmu loves Takeko; he must try to save her, even if that means disobeying Lord Ankan. He takes unauthorized leave. Then he meets a band of ninja warriors disguised as travelling puppeteers. Traditionally, samurai see ninjas as men without honour; cold-blooded killers, only out for financial gain. But is this pre-conception wrong? Goro, the blind master ninja, agrees a plan for getting inside Sabura’s castle and rescuing Takeko. But should Jimmu trust him?

I enjoyed this. In The Way of the Warrior, Jimmu’s first adventure, Jimmu learnt to judge people for himself and make his own decisions. Here he has more to learn. Whereas, a samurai should follow his lord’s judgement, a ninja is free to make his own decisions – a concept which Jimmu initially finds alien. Furthermore, he finds himself deeply drawn towards a young female ninja – something he finds difficult to reconcile with his love for Takeko. Jimmu has a lot of growing up to do.

As before, this is a thrilling read but it also offers something deeper. It looks at moral choice. Jimmu must face moral dilemmas which, by their very nature, may be difficult to judge. And he must accept the consequences of his decisions. For 12 plus, especially boys.