Samurai Adventure of the Highest Quality
This book is a great read! It’s rare that you come across a truly effective action adventure heroic fantasy for adults. Gonji contains elements that are going to evoke memories of many great Samurai and heroic fantasy adventures, but mixes them up in a way that’s totally original. This is a book that’s going to leave you wanting more, and you’ll have hardly closed the cover on this volume before you start reaching to crack open the sequel.
The novel follows the adventures of Gonji who is also known as “The Red Blade from the East,” as he makes his way through medieval Europe. The setting is perfect, and I enjoyed how the author sprinkled in words and phrases from foreign languages (particularly Spanish and German) to help create a realistic atmosphere. As a result of his travels, Gonji has picked up a functional grasp of a dozen languages, which was presented in a realistic way that I felt rounded out the character nicely.
Gonji is a Samurai born of a Japanese father and European mother. This mixed heritage leaves him semi-conflicted as he essentially picks the cultural behavior most likely to best ensure survival in whatever particular situation he gets into. I liked his constant dialogues about what “his father’s half” of his conscience tells him to do versus “his mother’s half.” This narrative device is a great stepping stone for the author to make some wider reaching philosophical comments, but Rypel is too talented to be at all obvious when he does so.
The writing is first rate. The action scenes are told with quick, effective sentences, but in moments of leisure the constructions become more complex and poetic. Rypel is capable of putting some marvelous thoughts into a short arrangement of words, but he picks his moments and when he does go into full “poetry mode” the phrases are emphasized nicely.
I suppose I was most reminded of “Yojimbo” as I read this, although with the Samurai motif that comparison was inevitable. Towards the end, Gonji does play a brief game of “both sides against the middle” but this is hardly the focal point of the novel. A more apt comparison for the whole book would be Robert E. Howard’s Conan. Gonji is a wanderer/mercenary. He gets work where he can, but his moral compass leads him to cast off comrades when they reveal themselves to be of lesser quality. He tends to align with the underdog and there is an amusing reflection where he is tempted to side with the more powerful group just to find out what it’s like to be on the winning side for a change.
There is a certain element of magic in this story, but its at the right level. It’s not the all-encompassing component, but is rather a seasoning that adds a bit of flavor.
This novel is very episodic, but there is an overall quest that is driving the narrative. There is plenty to be satisfied with in every fully contained and professionally written chapter. This novel is a must read for all fans of heroic fantasy. Gonji is on the short list of characters who can stand with Tempus Thales or Conan and be among equals rather than peers. Get your copy here.