Young Samurai: The Way of the Warrior

Written by Chris Bradford
Review by Elizabeth Hawksley

1611. Japan. Twelve-year-old Jack’s ship is attacked by brutal ninja pirates and his father and all the crew are murdered. The ninja leader, Dokugan Ryu, recognizable by his single green eye, is after Jack’s father’s uniquely detailed navigational map.

Jack is rescued by the renowned samurai warrior, Masomato, who takes Jack into his family and has him trained in samurai martial arts—an action which his younger son, Yamato, resents. Jack, who speaks not a word of Japanese, must learn to integrate into a culture very different from his own. Yamato isn’t the only person who dislikes gaijins (foreign barbarians), and Jack will need all his physical strength and mental endurance to earn the respect of his fellow students.

Jack’s only friend is Akiko, a beautiful girl skilled in archery, also training to be a samurai. So far his father’s map is safe, but Jack suspects that Dokugan Ryu hasn’t given up. But who can he trust? Akiko? Masomato?

I enjoyed this rite-of-passage book, which takes Jack through the gruelling samurai training and presents him with various Herculean tasks involving obnoxious fellow students who are determined, by fair means or foul, to show Jack how inferior foreign barbarians are. There’s not much of a plot (the question of the map and Dokugan Ryu more or less disappears); instead, it’s a series of events—not the same thing.

One caveat. The samurai way involves accepting the importance of such virtues as honour and loyalty. Why then, at the end, does Jack jettison his responsibility for his little sister, left behind in England, and opt to stay in Japan? He knows the money his father left to support her will run out. However, it’s a very readable opening salvo in an exciting series. Aimed at boys, 11 plus.