Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Jamie Reign: The Last Spirit Warrior by PJ Tierney

Jamie Reign: The Last Spirit Warrior by PJ Tierney is the author's début novel. It's a fast-paced YA/younger readers read that I felt was over really quickly. I think readers who usually enjoy adventure-based YA will probably find much to like about Jamie Reign, but the age of the protagonists — twelve or so for all the main kids — suggests to me that it might be intended for younger readers (or what the US industry calls "middle grade"). The blurb:
Jamie Reign can’t read a word, but he can handle a tugboat better than most. All his life he has dreamed of becoming a kung fu expert, like the legendary Master Wu. But that sort of kung fu, the sort that draws on the ancient and mystical force called the Way, is only for the Chinese boys and Jamie isn't Chinese enough for that.

While diving on an uncharted reef, Jamie discovers a terrible force that exposes his connection to these ancient warriors and to the warlord intent on destroying them all. He must quickly learn kung fu and the secret skills of the Warriors of the Way, guided by Jade, who seems intent on making him fail, and Wing, who is even worse than Jamie is at kung fu.

Jamie’s past and the future of these ancient warriors are inexplicably linked. And as the two collide, Jamie and his new friends set off on a desperate mission to save them all.
So basically, Jamie Reign is a martial arts caper. As the subtitle suggests, the Last Spirit Warrior is an important figure — the chosen one — and the fate of the world rests on his or her shoulders. Very little of the plot was surprising other than, to some degree, the opening. We first meet Jamie when his alcoholic and abusive father is using him to help run a dodgy salvage operation somewhere off the coast of China. Jamie feels like an outsider in their community, partly because no one likes his father's borderline-nefarious activities and partly because his white father means he's only half-Chinese and hasn't been taught all the customs of his mother's culture. The opening struck me as particularly sad and quickly made me care about Jamie's plight.

After that, however, Jamie Reign struck a lot of martial arts and fantasy tropes and was generally fairly predictable. That doesn't have to be a bad thing, of course. I found the book sufficiently well written and entertaining that the fact that I could predict much of the plot did not affect my enjoyment. Of course if you're particularly sick of standard martial arts/fantasy tropes, your mileage in this respect may vary. There also wasn't all that much fighting in it per se, which I suspect reduced the rate of martial arts mistakes (the way flying kicks were described was... interesting). If you're after a book heavy on fighting, this doesn't entirely fit the bill. But as a martial artist myself (who is prone to getting annoyed at inaccuracies in all the fields she knows things about), I didn't find any particularly terrible inaccuracies. And well, there's magic, so that can explain a lot.

I did think that Jamie and his friends were possibly a little too competent and with it for twelve year olds, but on the other hand, that has become par for the course in fiction (in all mediums) these days. I did like how Tierney gave the main characters different skills and flaws that complemented each other. For example, Lucy and Jade are particularly good at kung fu, while Wing is brave and Jamie, of course, has special skills. As a side note, I'm quite pleased to see the characters represented by models of the correct race on the cover. Yay for not white-washing.

I quite enjoyed Jamie Reign, despite it's predictability. It was a fun, quick read and I recommend it to fans of adventure stories, magic and martial arts. As I mentioned at the start, it's definitely the kind of book that will appeal to younger readers. I look forward to reading more books in this series when they come out.

4 / 5 stars

First published: July 2013, Harper Collins
Series: Yes. Book 1 of ?
Format read: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge

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