Friday, January 05, 2007

Book Review: Samurai


by Jason Hightman

Simon St. George is a dragon hunter. He and his father Aldric are descendants of the legendary Saint George, and they have a gift that enables them to see through the disguises which allow the dragons to live unnoticed among humans. The dragons terrorize humankind, spreading sickness and death and despair, and feeding off the misery of humans.

Simon and Aldric believe that they are the only dragon hunters remaining on the earth, but when a quest takes them to Japan, they find a band of Samurai dedicated to fighting the serpents. The two groups immediately mistrust each other, and culture clash ensues. But when Asia's most powerful dragons are drawn together in what may turn out to be a partnership, the two groups of dragon hunters must learn to work together.

Dragons are quite popular these days, and nice dragons have become the norm. Plenty of books feature cute dragons, lovable dragons, or telepathically bonded dragons. But the dragons in Samurai are not cute or nice. These are mean, evil, butt-kicking dragons. So the reader doesn't have to feel sorry for the dragons as the St. Georges go out to do battle. This is a kill or be killed situation.

Samurai would make a great movie. There's plenty of action, car chases, sword battles, fires, and general mayhem. With all the destruction going on, it's amazing that no one but the dragon hunters realizes that something supernatural is amiss. (Ordinary people just think that these are regular disasters).

Although the dragons are evil, they're fascinating characters with distinct personalities. The Dragon of Japan, for example, seeks a Zen-like equilibrium. Although he loves the death and misery caused by his actions, he tries to avoid extremes of emotion.

One disappointment is that Simon and his counterpart in the Samurai seem so ineffectual. Simon makes mistakes and does impulsive things, and the young Samurai isn't even allowed to go into battle. Often they are shunted aside by the adults, and their suggestions are ignored. To some extent it's not a bad thing; I think a lot of kids will identify with not being taken seriously by the adults. But dramatically it causes a problem in the story; you want the kids to show the adults up so that you can cheer for them. And while the young people do acquit themselves well in the end, it's not as much as I had hoped for.

Overall, though, Samurai is an exciting book that will appeal to teens who love action-adventure fantasy.

Samurai is the second book in the series, but I had no problems reading it without having read the first book. Book 1 is The Saint of Dragons.

Samurai is a Cybils nominee

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