Jet Black and the Ninja Wind
Jet has never lived a so-called normal life. Raised by her single Japanese mother on a Navajo reservation in the Southwest, Jet's life was a constant litany of mysterious physical and mental training. For as long as Jet can remember, every Saturday night she and her mother played "the game" on the local mountain. But this time, Jet is fighting for her life. And at the end of the night, her mother dies and Jet finds herself an orphan—and in mortal danger.
Fulfilling her mother's dying wish, Jet flies to Japan to live with her grandfather, where she discovers she is the only one who can protect a family treasure hidden in her ancestral land. She's terrified, but if Jet won't fight to protect her world, who will? Stalked by bounty hunters and desperately attracted with the man who's been sent to kill her, Jet must be strong enough to protect the treasure, preserve an ancient culture and save a sacred mountain from destruction.
In Jet Black and the Ninja Wind, multiple award-winning author, poet and translator team Leza Lowitz and Shogo Oketani make their first foray into young adult fiction with a compulsively readable tale whose teenage heroine must discover if she can put the blade above the heart—or die trying.
The book is written in third person past-tense, largely from Jet’s point of view, but sometimes alternating to include her cousin Hiro, her grandfather, and later on the mercurial Takumi. It picks up more of an urban fantasy feel as it goes.
What I Liked:
I won’t lie—the cover of this book was what first snared my attention. (As tough chicks with swords tend to do.) The premise then pulled me in, with its promise of mystery, cross-cultural intrigue, and of course… ninjas. I read the free sample provided by Amazon, and the vivid writing and rapid pacing gave that final push that made me want to request the book.
The font layout was uniquely attractive. Each chapter has not only a number but a name—written in both English and Japanese kanji. (The same is true for the six distinct parts the book is divided into.) The glossary of terms at the back is a smart addition, offering a quick and thorough reference for relevant Japanese words, terms, and historical figures.
What Didn’t Work For Me:
Unfortunately, a significant pacing slowdown seems to occur once the setting switches to Japan. (Something I couldn’t discern from the sample I’d read, as it ended prior to the end of Part 1, 32 pages in.)
Connectivity to Jet became increasingly difficult as the story progressed, in large part because readers never truly get to know her. What had she wanted to be or do when she reached adulthood? Was she completely friendless in high school? Does she have any hobbies or interests outside of the ninja training her mother pounded into her? Why is she bothered by small enclosed spaces? What mysterious illness killed her mother--And is she at all concerned of the same fate might befall her?
So many things about Jet are simply not addressed or fleshed out. Nor is there an explanation for why Jet is initially so weepy, whiny, and passive when she first faces danger Japan (her attitude being a hugely off-putting issue for some time.)
It was continually difficult to suspend disbelief over the villain’s motivations—particularly considering no one actually knows what the treasure is until the very end. The possibilities provided are wildly varied, straying off in convoluted directions that include conspiracy alternate histories for Judaism and Christianity (p. 117-119)—as if vaguely inspired by The Davinci Code. But these possibilities don’t satisfactorily justify why an already incredibly rich man would pump massive amounts of money, time, lives, and criminality into locating a treasure of unknown origin and value.
-Insta-love (Involving a bad-boy mercenary with murky motivations and little-to-no moral compass. Despite his participation in attacks and murder involving Jet’s family, she becomes irritatingly preoccupied with trying to save him from his own ambitions/greed.) The chemistry between them ended up feeling forced—“ninja magic” aside.
-Editing issues (More errors than I usually see in a non-ARC outside of self-published works—2 on page 86 alone. An instance of sudden POV shift mid-scene with no warning or transition (page 37), and some yo-yoing in and out of POV. (Example: Masakichi rubbed his nose as if trying to get rid of the smell. (We are meant to be in Masakichi’s perspective—he should know if he is trying to get rid of the smell or not.)
There was also repeated buildup regarding the villain’s infamous pet panther, only to have it seemingly forgotten in the middle of a big fight scene.
A promising premise with lots of action, but the entirety didn’t quite cohere for me.