Synopsis: In his brief time as an Araluen knight, Horace has traveled the known world and fought countless bloody battles. All for his country, his king, and his friends. For all that is right.
When Horace travels to the exotic land of Nihon-Ja to study the Senshi fighting technique, it isn't long before he finds himself pulled into a battle that is not his - but one he knows in his heart he must wage. The Nihon-Ja emperor, a defender of the common man, has been forcibly dethroned, and only Horace, Will, and their Araluen friends, along with a group of untrained woodcutters and farmers, can restore the emperor to the throne.
Review: I started the final installment of the Ranger's Apprentice series with some apprehension. I pictured Horace doing karate and other martial arts. In short, I saw The Emperor of Nihon-Ja being absolutely . . . well, silly. But sometimes my imagination runs wild. My main concern was the thickness of Book 10. When books in a series start out fairly thin, then get thicker and thicker, it is usually a sign that the Author is being paid by the word (or letter), and when that happens, the Author throws the storyline out the window.
Though there are plenty of places where I think John Flanagan could have used fewer words, I can't say that there were any scenes that he could have cut out. Every step of this particular book felt planned. I never got the sense that Mr. Flanagan was kind of guessing, and making things happen for convenience's sake. Everything really felt like it had a full purpose (though I have to confess sometimes it felt like The Elder Scrolls or some other fantasy RPG: "you have to do this for me before I help you with your quest" type of thing).
However, there is the matter of the characters. Let me see . . . There's Horace, Will, Halt, Evanlyn/Cassandra, Selethen, Alyss, Shigeru, and a bunch of other Nihon-Jan characters that I won't include because they're not major major characters - like the type that are there 24/7-major. There are also some returning Skandians, but they don't remain in the book the entire time. So, not including those, that's seven characters!! Call me a heartless Author, but when you have that many main characters that you're toting around, there needs to be some executions. Sorry. But surprisingly, this wasn't as bad as I thought it might be. For one thing, for a good portion of the story, Horace's group (i.e. him and the Nihon-Jan characters) and Will's group (i.e. everyone else) have their own separate adventure. Then when they pair up for the final battle, the Skandians are not included, and two of the main characters split off to have their own adventure. So the pile-up isn't nearly as bad as I was anticipating. Still, that many main characters demands some heart-wrenching deaths.
As far as battles and technical details go: I was pleasantly surprised with how successfully written the final battle was in The Emperor of Nihon-Ja. Flanagan managed to maintain the "aerial perspective" for almost all of it, and the other battles were more like skirmishes than actual battles, which he's always been pretty good at writing. And of course, he was spot on with the technical details. Perhaps too much so, as always, making it feel very movie-ish at times, but still, sometimes it is better to be overly technical than write something that isn't realistic. I am no expert on Japanese history or culture, but from what little I have studied, Flanagan's statements seemed accurate. I particularly wish to commend him on actually researching the katana. Nothing irritates me more than Authors who write about swords and haven't researched them.
All in all, The Emperor of Nihon-Ja was good! An excellent way to finally wrap up the series. The only truly irritating thing about this book is the interactions between Alyss and Evanlyn. I have always found the princess annoying, but she seemed to be doubly so. And Alyss even got on my nerves. Really, couldn't they just sit down and talk about their feelings for Will like reasonable people?
Two thumbs up for The Emperor of Nihon-Ja!
Overall Rating: JJJ
Others in the Ranger's Apprentice Series:
1)The Ruins of Gorlan
2)The Burning Bridge
3)The Icebound Land
4)The Battle for Skandia
5)The Sorcerer of the North
6)The Siege of Macindaw
8)The Kings of Clonmel
10)The Emperor of Nihon-Ja
11)The Lost Stories