Sunday, 13 January 2013

Book Review: Samurai's Apprentice by David Walters


There are some authors that like to waffle on for pages (looking at you, Stephen King) and there are others who distil stories down to their purest form, providing everything you need and trimming the fat. David Walters is certainly the latter and Samurai's Apprentice is evidence of that - 101 pages of lean, fast-paced adventure from beginning to end.

Samurai's Apprentice is set in feudal Japan, 1600AD, just after the battle of Sekigahara. It's a time of shoguns, warlords and ninjas, one where war is commonplace and battles bloody. Kami is a young boy living with his grandfather in a small farming village, dreaming of one day joining the ranks of the samurai. However, he realises that this could never happen as one must be born into nobility to become one of these fierce and noble warriors. But when he stumbles across an injured samurai, Shimayazu, his life is changed completely and his training begins.

Like any good adventure, Samurai's Apprentice is about the protagonist's personal and physical journey. We follow Kami as he matures under the keen guidance of his mentor Shimayazu, all while they travel across Japan to confront Lord Tokugawa, the shogun who led his army to victory over the Toyotomi clan of which Shimayazu is a loyal member. Along the way we meet some interesting characters who are well developed throughout despite the book being fairly short. In fact, the character of Yanama has more intricacies than many characters in full-blown 400 page novels, and she's only a secondary character.

The book is made up of a series of very defined scenes. There are rarely any 'bits in between' that would serve to slow down the pace - everything moves likes a freight train from the get-go, never letting up or feeling boring. The action scenes are well-written, leaving enough to the imagination without having to be explicitly gory. People are run through with katanas, pierced by darts and decapitated, which is everything one should expect from a book about samurai.

The only disappointment, really, is Kami, who is like every other headstrong 'chosen-one' in literature, without much depth aside from really wanting to become a samurai. This aspect of his personality is never really explained and it would have been nice to dive into his psyche once in a while. Still, Kami certainly does grow and with two more books in the series there is still chance for him to expand as a character.

It would have also been nice for the book to be a bit longer, as there are some really interesting characters and it's such a wonderful setting that this feels like a just a brief peek into this world rather than letting the reader live and breathe it. Then again, for such a small price for such a great book this can easily be overlooked.

If you have any interest at all in semi-historical fiction, especially in a Japanese setting, then you should definitely read Samurai's Apprentice. It's a heart-pounding adventure with some great characters and an interesting setting, and it will only take you a few hours to read.

Buy Samurai's Apprentice for Kindle

*****