‘Young Samurai — The Way of the Warrior’

By Chris Bradford; Puffin; 2008; 316 pp.

This one’s especially for you. A hero bred in Japan on Bushido, the sacred way of the samurai. A deadly ninja with one green eye. The picturesque setting of Kyoto, way back in 1611. And enough katana, wakizashi and shuriken* to make this a cutting-edge James Bond thriller, Oriental style.

Jack Fletcher is a rigging monkey on his father’s ship bound for the Japans, as the four islands of Japan were then known. All too soon, the Alexandria is besieged by waco — Japanese pirates — Jack’s father is killed by a mysterious assassin and Jack is left for dead. Rescued and adopted by a samurai lord named Masamoto Takeshi, Jack finds himself stranded in feudal Japan, a world away from England, his home, without even the familiarity of a language he knows. He must learn to speak and understand Japanese, learn the Japanese way and make friends with Masamoto’s own son, Yamato, who has nothing but contempt for the foreign boy. His only friend is a beautiful Japanese girl, Yamato’s cousin Akiko.

Yamato, Akiko and Jack are accepted for training at Masamoto’s samurai school, the Niten Ichi Ryu, in Kyoto. Now Jack must learn not just how to hold his chopsticks but also how to wield his bokken. He must learn how to conquer not just the enemy but his own fears. Meanwhile, Dragon Eye, the green-eyed ninja, wants something that Jack has in his possession — his father’s rutter, an atlas of the oceans of the world and Jack’s only hope of ever making it home to England.

While Jack puzzles over the Japanese obsession with “saving face” and their apprehension, if not hostility, toward anything foreign, he also finds acceptance once he has embraced the Japanese way. The first in Bradford’s series is a wonderful introduction to everything that is enthralling about Japan, from hanami and matsuri to samurai honor and respect for one’s sensei. If this doesn’t turn you into a Japanophile, what will?

*If you don’t know what the italicized words mean, read the book! Note: To commence your own samurai training, go to www.youngsamurai.com

‘Artemis Fowl and the Time Paradox’

By Eoin Colfer; Puffin; 2008; 382 pp.

He’s abducted a fairy; battled the Russian Mafia; gone head to head with a power-crazed pixie; and battled bloodthirsty demons. Yes, Artemis Fowl, it would seem, always wins, no matter who the teen genius (and former criminal mastermind) is pitted against. So now here’s a conundrum that makes all his previous escapades seem easy-peasy: Fowl vs. Fowl. Can Artemis Fowl, hero extraordinaire, come out smelling like roses when his adversary is none other than himself?

When Artemis, now 18, realizes that his mother is ill and only hours away from death, he summons his trusty friend, Holly Short, to help him find a cure. The search for an antidote takes Artemis and Holly back in time, eight years, in pursuit of a lemur known as the Silky Sifaka.

On this monkey ride, Artemis must outsmart the vicious Doctor Damon Kronski, current president of the Extinctionists, an organization of maniacs who want to terminate all animals that are of no direct use to mankind. He must evade the evil designs of Opal Koboi, who, if you’ve read previous books in this series, you would know stops at nothing to get what she wants. And most of all, he must out-think and outmaneuver his younger self, Artemis at age 10 — and you can rest assured that this is close to impossible.

Artemis must also enlist the help of old friends: a mud-eating dwarf with a legendary flatulence problem (know him?); a centaur with a penchant for improbable gizmos; and a little demon known as No. 1. Needless to say, this adventure has its fair share of globe-trotting, from a maximum-security animal reserve in South Africa to an odious leather souk in Morocco.

Colfer manages to pull off yet another novel that’s both as fast-paced as an LEP shuttle and as fiery as Holly Short’s Neutrino guns, and which brings in subtle references to the state of the world’s wildlife. With five books before this, the sixth one is the best yet. It couldn’t get any better. Or could it?

Note: For teenagers 13-16 years.


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