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Ninja Training Gone Wrong

By Syphax, author of Stone Burners

Aug 2, 2014: This is a story that doesn’t seem quite committed to a genre. This is mainly devoted to victim empowerment, and that’s fine, though not necessarily my cup of tea. But wait! There are subtly super powered people (as the name would imply) in this universe, including Lex, our martial artist protagonist. Now things are interesting. But wait! There’s also this detective mystery thing that’s really at the forefront, not all that super heroics stuff. OK, that works too. But wait! Forget those last two things. All the characters are now in a band, touring in California.

That last bit threw me. It was like expecting a nice New York strip and receiving a gourmet cheeseburger. The burger may be delicious, but it’s not what I ordered. The detective mystery and the superpowers aren’t given a graceful farewells to make room for the metaphorical burger, either.

The super heroics amount to doing fire department’s job for them. I got no sense of urgency as the characters stood around thinking and talking for hours, the raging apartment fire being nice enough to not change the conditions of the emergency in the intervening time. The argument may be made that this story isn’t about flashy heroics, and I would agree. I would also counter that their inclusion was unnecessary. Either cut them out or give them some sort of life threatening situation for the characters to overcome.

In contrast, the government conspiracy is handled much better, right up until the end. The reader gets subtle clues as time goes on, hinting that not all is as it appears. The odd action of a government worker, slightly strange orders, and the fact that some in this group of super powered people are getting paid well to sit around doing fuck all. Gradually, Lex becomes suspicious of this pit of taxpayer money and starts to look into things.

I felt suspense! I felt mystery! I didn’t know if she would put her trust in the wrong person, or ask the wrong question. Then, just as she starts chipping away at the mystery, a character comes in and explains everything away. Everything. Motivations, how the government went about it, what they were currently doing, how much they currently knew about Lex, how they kept it pseudo-legal. Everything. No clever manipulations, no deceit, no clues or any display of Lex’s mental prowess.

Then Lex loses her martial arts conditioning, gets a new set of powers, and forms a band. To avoid spoilers, this all makes sense in context, but she piddles about in this band for several chapters, right up to the posting of this review, to the point where I just skimmed the last two chapters because nothing besides “We are practicing and performing and doing well. Yay!” happens.

I mentioned victim empowerment towards the beginning. You see, Lex was horribly abused all throughout her childhood by her father, training her as a ninja or something. We know this because it is mentioned at every available opportunity throughout the entire story. At several points when Lex is reminiscing about her childhood, it stops just shy of the author bursting through my monitor, grabbing me by my shoulders, and screaming, “Emotions! Feel the emotions!”

Otherwise, it is handled well, if a bit frequently. It is obviously an important part of her life, one that has shaped her throughout the story. Her abusive father always lurks in the shadows of Lex’s psyche as you read. Gratifyingly, rather than being a broken, delicate flower for some square jawed man to save, Lex pulls herself up by her own bootstraps and perseveres.

One quibble I had though, was why her father put her through that shitty childhood. Why go through all that effort training and abusing a child? Lex has sisters, and it’s implied that they didn’t have a sunshine and rainbows childhood, but they aren’t ninjas. What was the point of it all? It obviously wasn’t just random and/or drunken abuse. However, the lack of motivation (that we know of) adds to the air of malice and mystique to the father, so I’ll just hold out hope that it’ll be explained at some point to sate my morbid curiosity.

I’ve complained enough, perhaps too much. There is a lot to recommend this for, too. The slow posting schedule reflects the progress of the story. That is to say, also slow. The plot progresses gradually, and this fits, as this isn’t meant to be a fast, action packed, testosterone fueled, explosion-fest. As I said before, this is meant to be subtle, and it pulls off subtle rather well. Nothing slaps you in the face immediately that something isn’t quite right with the government. Characters don’t wear their characterization on their shirts. There is more to them that Lex learns over time.

Speaking of which, the characters, at least the core group, are very well done. They are real people, with all the flaws and quirks that entails. Their interactions with Lex come across as conversations you might overhear between two friends on a bus. That is to say, realistic. The introvert actually takes time to warm up to Lex, as opposed to recognizing her main character-ness immediately and trusting her unconditionally. This made it a bit jarring when Lex meets a man who may as well have been wearing an “I’m a misogynistic asshole with no redeeming values” sign in bright neon letters around his neck, but no one is perfect.

As for the writing, nothing struck me as bad, so by process of elimination that means it’s good. No consistent typos, no strange formatting, and so on. I actually would get sucked into the long chapters, which can’t be a bad thing. The dialogue held up, thought it stretched on a bit. Then again, I’ve held a three hour long argument over the Star Wars movies, so I’m not one to judge a conversation, fictional or otherwise. I painted the mystery to band transition as jarring earlier, but it occurred over the course of about three chapters, and made sense every step of the way.

In conclusion, if you are patient, this is worth a read. Despite some flaws, I keep coming back every month for more.

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