Ninja: 1,000 Years of the Shadow Warrior
by John Man
Review by Steve Sawicki
William Morrow Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780062222022
Date: 05 February 2013 List Price $25.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Ninjas have been around for more than a thousand years and they are the prototype for a lot of characters in both science fiction and fantasy. That being the case it is only fitting that we spend a moment looking at how they began.
Ninjas originated in two provinces in Japan, Iga and Koga. Ironically enough the ninja was created by a band of peasants in response to the rise of powerful warlords and samurai. Samurai were expensive--the armor, the weapons, the training while ninjas were more stealthy, relying on nature, materials available at hand, and physical and mental conditioning. Some argue that they still exist today, as a secret force, while others have attributed almost mystical qualities and supernatural powers to them. The truth is just as fascinating as the fiction.
John Man has researched these shadow warriors vigorously and has traced their roots and followed their history, unlocking a past that is mysterious and also very mundane. He uncovers the amazing feats done by these simple peasants who banded together simply as a means of survival and he traces their history back to the beginning. In successive chapters he talks about the men who became ninjas, the culture and geo political situations that created them, the training and disciplines they underwent, and their rise to become the most sought after warrior in Japan.
Man's research is very complete and he talks about his sources throughout the book. It is obvious that he spent a great deal of time tracking things down. And this is, perhaps, also the books largest problem. It's incredibly dry.
Given the time frame and the history involved you would expect a certain amount of mystery and excitement. But Mann seems to strip any of that away in his fervor to get the facts in front of you. There are numerous interesting characters here but none are treated as such. It's still an interesting book just not as fun as it could be.
Recommended if you ever wanted to find out where Ninjas came from and what they were capable of. As you read you'll recognize a lot of characters you are familiar with from many of the other books reviewed here.