A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
Last year, Jay Benedict and Moira Briggs (technically both adults, although their families might have something to say on the subject) enjoyed themselves far too much reviewing the first instalment of Jane Prowse’s Hattori Hachi trilogy – The Revenge of Praying Mantis.
For Stalking the Enemy however, they agreed (after a short but undignified struggle) to stand down in favour of someone just a little more suitable, age-wise: Jay’s younger son Leopold:
I recently spent a week in Poland singing with the Trinity Boys Choir at an international choral festival. As with all performance events, there is an awful lot of hanging around; mainly quiet hanging around. So how to kill the boredom factor? (There’s only so many times you can get to Boss level on Super Mario and I’d won my fill of wine gums at Texas Hold ‘Em) A book seemed the perfect solution to the problem and someone thrust Hattori Hachi – Stalking the Enemy into my hands.
I was really pleased as I’d thoroughly enjoyed Revenge of the Praying Mantis – the first book in the trilogy. I set about finding out what happened next to Hattie Jackson (Ninja name Hattori Hachi) as well as her family, friends, enemies and, most of all, her pet rats, Bushi and Akira. We had left Hattie safe and sound, with her mother back in the bosom of her family, none the worse for her kidnapping ordeal, and her father none the wiser for the first set of adventures that had befallen them. Her friends Mad Dog, Neena and Tasha had all proved their worth in different ways. And Hattie had found her long-lost twin, Toby, only to lose him again, without knowing if he was on the side of good or evil.
The new book opens with life proceeding at a relatively normal pace. Yazuki, Hattie’s nimble ninja master, is back running the laundrette in her usual disguise as an amiable old crone, bent double with hard work at the ironing board. Hattie and Neena are madly revising for GCSEs. (Note the lack of the apostrophe in the plural – yes, I have been paying attention in my English lessons, Mr McKee!) And Mad Dog’s feelings for Hattie are becoming less of a secret. (I know, Mr McKee, I’ve blown it by starting a sentence with ‘And’!)
Suddenly a chain of events is set in motion: The Golden Child Scroll vanishes from its hiding place. On the orders of their mysterious chunin Mum and Yazuki leave for a secret mission and Dad, Neena, Mad Dog and our heroine find a pretext to follow them north to Kielder, home of Europe’s largest reservoir. There they are greeted with a concrete valve tower housing a vital secret and a terrifying birdman leading the enemy Kataki forces. They discover their hidden camp in an abandoned castle. Hattie meets an enigmatic healer, Takumi, who teaches her the ninja hierarchy of genin, chunin and joinin.
Soon there is news of Toby, a kidnapping and a case of mistaken identity. The plot is further complicated by rumours of a missing Diamond Dagger – one of 3 capable of killing a Golden Child and essential to the Kataki. Our band of heroes are soon pitted against the evil Raven and a villain they thought was dead. Before they know it, they are faced with impossible dilemma and they are forced to choose between saving hundreds from certain death or stopping the dagger falling into enemy hands. The reader has no idea whether the Golden Child will be destroyed on his or her sixteenth birthday and all the while an ominous bell tolls, warning of impending danger.
Jane Prowse has certainly done lots of research and keeps the reader fully informed about ninja practice. Her knowledge of the setting makes you really want to visit Kielder. She uses uncomplicated language, which keeps the story immediate and full of impact. The plot twists and turns so you never know what to expect and whom to trust. The reader is exhausted by end of the final chapter…
…or, at least, I was. I read this book in 3 days flat, often reading late into the night; so much so that my parents commented on the dark circles under my eyes. I devoured the story with relish, but also found the ending ultimately frustrating. This book is the middle story in a trilogy, so we know our heroine and her cohorts must live to fight another day. However, there are so many loose ends still left hanging in the air and so many questions that remain unanswered. I wished in a way that I had the third book handy to read on and find out…