My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Of all the warrior classes I’ve encountered in my reading while young, ninja is cooler than samurais, samnites, amazonians, barbarians, knights, monks, kungfu hermits, Bruce Lee, muay thai fighters, and sumo wrestlers. Maybe it’s the cool outfit, or the exotic weapons. I’ve always liked ninjas. As I grew older, somehow this carried over to literature, and while it isn’t a genre I actively seek, books with ninjas always catch my eye.
I saw this book in Soekarno-Hatta and picked it up, enticed by the back cover blurb. It’s written by a Japanese-American couple, and it’s filled with ninja lore and history. I loved how the main character, Jet, comes into her own as she learns of her innate ninja skills, and the reader learns along with her. The history and the mythology were fascinating and very interesting indeed. I was surprised to also learn about the Navajo as well, and the authors were clever to draw the parallels between the plight of the ninjas and The Long Walk.
The action sequences were described in the context of the skills of the ninja, and for a ninja nerd, this was amazing. Just don’t ask me the names of the skills after the fact, though.
Ok, now for the not so good bits. First, and it must be obvious to anyone who sees this book in the stores, the title of the book was incredibly bad. It’s like a cross between an episode title of an 80’s cartoon or a poorly executed fart joke. I didn’t care for the titular character’s name too. Rika Kuroi is much better (and happens to be her real name too), and even Jet Kuroi was great. Jet Black sounds like a bad pun (which it is, especially since Kuroi actually means ‘black’). If it weren’t for my previously undiscovered need for ninja fiction I’d have walked right past.
Then there was the overall tone of the story. The circumstances surrounding Jet’s awakening was extremely bleak, and the events that followed more or less maintained that somber mood throughout. A new reader would have almost been lulled into a sense of adventure and fun from that wacky title of the book, and the contrast was stark.
And there was the 10-year old Hiro, trained since young but able to kick fully grown thugs despite an apparently quiet upbringing in the mountains. Every time he appeared in action I was reminded of the seminal, highly influential and iconic martial arts flick, The 3 Ninjas. But the tone! It was all wrong, this doesn’t read like a family movie at all!
Finally, the story. Now I think there ought to be a rule where if an amateur book reviewer complains about how the story isn’t ‘believable’ in a work of fiction, this person should clubbed by strangers in public with foam katanas. Having said that, the story, was, uhm, incredible. The leader of a team of thugs is a ninja teenager, who jeopardizes the entire mission of retrieving a treasure nobody knows exists because his heart goes aflutter after meeting a pretty girl. His employer, already wealthy, spends money to find unverified treasure, which surely is the last thing a greedy tycoon would do since it’s the surest way to lose money. He also owns an unleashed panther as a pet, which makes you wonder how the heck he became and stayed rich when we get to him in the book (you know, because he’s as dumb as a rock). My suspension-of-disbelief compass needle was spinning as fast as a shuriken in mid-flight.
Overall, I have to say I sorta enjoyed the book (hard to believe, I know). There was enough ninja mythology, legend and history here to scratch an itch, which frankly I hadn’t known was there. This book feels more ‘authentic’ than Lustbader’s Ninja, but I’m not sure it’s a runaway victor here.
If only there was a thriller steeped with ninja mythology and great martial arts action, marinated with a believable fictitious story that isn’t YA. Hmm…