ARC Review: The Ninja’s Blade by Tori Eldridge

“A warrior’s heart is full, and her capacity to feel is great. You fight to protect others out of fierce emotion. You kill when there is no other way to protect the innocent or yourself. You carry this burden because of the commitment, actions and sacrifices you continue to make. Because of who you are. Because of your heart. Because of what you feel.” – The Ninja’s Blade

The Ninja’s Blade by Tori Eldridge

The Ninja's Blade by Tori Eldridge Book Cover

Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Adventure
Series: Lily Wong #2
Setting: Los Angeles, USA
Pages: 320
Rating: ★★★★
Release date: September 2020
Trigger and content warnings in book and review // child and commercial sexual exploitation, sex trafficking of minors, graphic violence, claustrophobia, exploration of child sex abuse.

Lily Wong–a Chinese-Norwegian modern-day ninja–has more trouble than she was bargaining for when controlling grandparents arrive in Los Angeles from Hong Kong at the same time she goes undercover in the dangerous world of sex trafficking in this second book in the series. As she hunts for a missing high school girl, a kidnapped prostitute, and a sociopathic pimp, the surviving members of a murderous street gang hunt for her. Life would be easier if Lily knew who to trust. But when victims are villains, villains are victims, and even family is plotting against her, easy is not an option. All Lily can do is follow the trail wherever it leads: through a high school campus polarized by racial tension or the secret back rooms of a barber/tattoo/brothel or the soul-crushing stretch of Long Beach Boulevard known as The Blade. She relies on her ninja skills to deceive and infiltrate, rescue and kill–whatever is necessary to free the girls from their literal and figurative slavery. If only those same skills could keep Lily’s conniving grandparents from hijacking her future. 

REVIEW

I want to thank Jennifer Vance, from Books Forward, for providing me with a free copy in exchange for an honest review.

I couldn’t wait to finish my daily to-do list, so I could jump right back into ‘The Ninja’s Blade’. It’s rare for me to look forward to reading a book and maintain that interest. Usually I get excited by the prospect of reading something new and my interest slowly dwindles, but, with The Ninja’s Blade, my interest kept increasing, and I kept wondering: will Lily be able to save Emma and the girls?

The Ninja’s Blade deals with commercial sexual exploitation of young girls, and you’d think because of how terrifying the subject is that it would be a heavy read, but it’s explored with so much compassion and a subtle love and care for the young girls that you end up feeling lighter for it. It’s a careful study of how vulnerable young girls are trafficked, and absolutely horrifying and eye-opening to see just how easy it can be. And in the end, when the final missing piece is solved, it feels like a sort of harsh slap to the face because, of course, how did I not see it coming? And even then, it doesn’t promise a happy ending… because that’s just not life, not after everything we see in The Ninja’s Blade. But there is a glimmer of hope, a faint hope and little chance of happiness.

I was paranoid throughout reading this… who can even be trusted? Will Lily save the day? How will she get out of that one? The Ninja’s Blade had me at the edge of my seat.

I really, really enjoyed this, so I went ahead and asked for the first book in the series, and I can’t wait to read the third book when it releases. And I would LOVE to read more books like this, so please DO get recommending. I’m slow to jump into the badass heroine trope in the year of 2020, but give me all of the Lily Wong and Arya Stark heroines please! Plus, there’s a lovely bit of side romance with a special guy called Daniel who’s just ridiculously dreamy and will have you “ay-ay-ay”ing like high Jess during Cece’s casual hen do, and I really enjoyed learning more about Chinese culture.

high Jess New Girl bachelorette party

If I had to pair The Ninja’s Blade with a film, it would be Rani Mukerji’s Mardaani (which you should also check out!) (also Rani Mukerji is Bollywood royalty).

COMMERCIAL SEXUAL EXPLOITATION

I used to work for an organisation specialising in support services for children and young people and while processing cases, you notice how important it is to use the correct terminology. This is echoed in The Ninja’s Blade: “I’m encouraged to hear you call traffickers what they are and not perpetuating glamorized language. The age of ‘pimps’ and ‘child prostitutes’ are over. What we’re dealing with is an epidemic of under-aged victims of commercial sexual exploitation.”

Most of the kids come from unstable homes, the foster care system, or have already been sexually abused by someone they know.”

The Ninja’s Blade delves deeply into the psyche of young victims of commercial sexual exploitation, and your heart will break for every single victim. It covers the ways in which young girls are sexually exploited, and how organisations work to both prevent exploitation and provide a refuge post-intervention. I felt sick to my core at times knowing how easily girls can be exploited. Vulnerable young girls can come to love monsters for a scrap of love. That’s what deprivation can do to you.

He’d probably done more for her self-image in one day than her parents had managed to do in her lifetime.”

Lily struggles with the fact that even victims can lure others into the same life. But… it’s hard to judge them because they’ll be risking their own lives if they don’t. The world isn’t so black and white as we’d like it to be, and Lily eventually learns to understand this. Some people who we believe to be villains are really victims and they need mercy and compassion, not even more harshness and hatred.

“Love, support, opportunity – so much of it depended on who gave birth to you and where. It all felt so arbitrary.”

Much of how Lilly handles the cases fall directly in line with my own experiences working for a youth charity organisation. “Suspicions and observations were great, but if you wanted cops to knock down someone’s door and search the premises, you needed probable cause.” This is evident in child abuse cases in the UK too. Even charities would require hard-hitting evidence to pursue a case, suspicion isn’t sufficient. But it does make me worry whether the law is too lax and stringent in its requirement for clear proof because by the time the abuse has progressed, the damage will have already been inflicted and may take a lifetime to heal… that is if you can truly ever heal. It left me with much to think about long after I finished reading it.

LILY WONG – TRAUMA AND NINJA TRAINING

Lily is on Arya Stark post-beheading of Ned Stark PTSD mode, on a quest for vengeance. But she comes to realise that this is no longer truly living, and that it’s a reaction she’s cultivated so that she never feels powerless again to protect the people she loves and cares for. Her trauma feels so visceral and jumps right off the page and into the pit of your stomach. It’s hard to know where Lily’s trauma ends and the real Lily Wong begins, but perhaps I need to shift my perspective here. Of course, her personality is informed by trauma, how could it not considering the magnitude of her trauma?  

Lily frequently jumps right into action and can think quickly on her feet. Her plans are always nerve-wracking because I’m left thinking: will this work? This seems dangerous! Are you sure about this? I was worrying a lot, but Lily Wong sure knows how to adapt and react to high pressure situations thanks to her ninja training.

What I especially loved is that Lily always tries to achieve the best possible outcome in the long-term for everyone involved, she’s sincere in her motivation to protect young girls and learns how to practice self-restraint by considering, at length, which methods she needs to incorporate to ensure justice for the girls.

I didn’t need therapy: I needed justice.”

We get some scenes of Lily sharpening her ninja moves and lessons with her Sensei which feel like a much needed therapy session despite Lily believing she didn’t need it. It’s possible to require both therapy and justice. Lily’s meetings with her Sensei left me feeling enlightened, it’s quite strange to think how much better I felt, I honestly felt like I was having a therapy session myself! It’s also fascinating to see how fear and anger can be intertwined and drive your thought process. Right this very moment, I want to reread Lily’s scenes with her Sensei because of how much clarity these scenes provided.

You're-angry.-Sometimes-anger-makes-people-do-unfortunate-things.

WRITING

The writing is particularly strong whilst dealing with inner emotional turmoil, but it could be improved in the more descriptive parts of the book. Although, I have to note that this is a matter of taste, and it wasn’t so overly descriptive that it hindered my enjoyment. There are some parts where the plot loses focus and jumps from one plot to another which left me feeling a little scattered. Just some extra time to really let certain plots settle would have very much helped. There is a moment where it switches from a severely upsetting meeting to a birthday party and it felt slightly disjointed because how is Lily able to process this and take everything in and not crumble at all? But, halfway through the book, it picks up additional pace, there’s plenty of action and chases and I was in complete thrall. I was sorry it ended, I wanted to stay a little longer.

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What are your thoughts on The Ninja’s Blade? How do you know when trauma ends and the real ‘you’ begins? Or are they intertwined? What are some books that you’ve read that you think were going to be ‘heavy’ but ended up being thrilling? What books would you recommend that are similar to The Ninja’s Blade? Let me know in the comments! 

Sophia Ismaa

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