Reviewer: Tony Atkins
“The Ring of Water” is the fifth book in the Young Samurai series of books for teenagers. They are written by Chris Bradford. Chris is a martial arts expert living on the South Downs; you may have seen him doing demonstrations at Japanese culture days.
The Young Samurai series follows the fortunes of Jack Fletcher, a young English lad who is stranded in Japan at the start of the 17th century. After being wrecked in a storm, his ship is attacked by ninja who kill his father and narrowly miss killing Jack too. He is brought to recovery by a samurai lord who enrols Jack into his samurai training school, so that Jack can survive in Japan.
At this point the series becomes a bit like Harry Potter, with swords not wands, and kimono not cloaks. It has similar levels of violence, with real injuries and even deaths. Like Harry, Jack is picked upon by the school bully, yet makes some good friends who share his adventures as the evil ninja tries to steal his father’s valuable navigator’s log book.
Jack continues his training through the first three “The Way of” books (and a novelette): “The Way of the Warrior”, “. . . the Sword”, “. . . the Dragon” (and “. . . Fire”) before civil war changes Japan and leaves him as an outcast.
However in the fourth book, “The Ring of Earth”, Jack starts on a long journey to get to Nagasaki and a possible boat back to England. At the start of this, the fifth, book we find he has been attacked and robbed of his possessions and, with the help of two new friends, Ronin and Hana, he attempts to get them back. In so doing he visits Nara and sees the giant Buddha statue there. However they are captured by a Lord Sanada, who is such a big Go enthusiast that his house is decorated black and white.
Although Jack has never played the game of Go before, he is given the morning to learn the rules from Ronin and then to apply his samurai battle and mind training to winning a four- stone game to earn the freedom of himself and his friends.
The book runs through the rules of Go for the non-player; however one or two badly-constructed sentences make some things a little unclear. Also Chris translates “te” as “liberty”, both in the context of intersections and of free points next to a stone, which is confusing for Go players if not for beginners.
As the game progresses we learn a little of the good and bad etiquette for playing, for example not rattling your stones and how to hold the stones, and also how the game ends with pass stones being given like in current BGA rules!
I will not spoil the outcome of the game in case you want to read the book, but nevertheless Jack survives to fight on and continue his journey in “The Ring of Fire”, out later in August 2011.
The books are well written and contain enough back-story that you can probably understand and enjoy the fifth book without reading the first four. They are ripping yarns of the old tradition, and once you pick them up you can not put them down. I managed to track down the first four and the novelette at a nearby public library and, with three visits over a very busy fortnight, managed to borrow and read them all. I enjoyed them so much, I was delighted when Chris offered to send the BGA a review copy, which I duly accepted and read within five hours of it arriving.
Both the book and the youngsamurai.com  web site promote Go-playing through links to the BGA. The book has a two-page appendix about the game, including the history of the game, and five interesting facts about things like the Atom Bomb Game. We have added links from our BGA home page to two new pages: one for those who have not read the book to find out more about it, and the second for those who have read it and want to find out more about Go, where and how to play it, and more background to the five facts.
Anyway I recommend the series and “The Ring of Water” to teenagers both young and old. It was published in paperback on 3rd March 2011 by Puffin Books (ISBN 978-0-141-33254-3) RRP £6.99.