Black DoveBlack Dove by S.J. Campbell

Black Dove is the first novel in a trilogy written by fellow Taumarunui author, Stuart Campbell. Stuart has been immersed in martial arts for decades, despite living in our somewhat remote area of New Zealand. His passion for these arts led him to pen this series in which he aims to portray ninja realistically.

Similar to my read of Cate Sutherland‘s science fiction novel, The Shadow of the Hills, this type of fiction is not my preferred genre, but I do have a young ninja inside, fed by Frank Miller‘s stints with the Daredevil and Wolverine comic book series in the 1980s. My only recent exposure to ninja stories would be in Quentin Tarantino‘s Kill Bill movies. In these, the ninja were portrayed as assassins – mysterious figures with very specific garments, always adversaries to the good guys. It is an image I am sure is conjured by the majority of people with the word “ninja”.

Campbell has done an admirable job of counteracting this image. In Black Dove, the ninja are a network of rebels in rural, 14th Century Japan, who enact a complex plot to overthrow the existing brutal power structure of shoguns, daimyo and samurai. Through the journey of the protagonist, Kansai, we learn that ninja emerge from the common people, undergoing extraordinary training in hidden dojo. It is a world of secrets, intriguing training methods and wise, yet taxing teachers. One strength in Campbell’s writing is his ability to integrate his knowledge of martial arts training techniques into the narrative. I won’t say this was done seamlessly, as it is persistently evident that he wants his readers to learn about and appreciate these techniques. Judging from his reviews on Amazon, his audience of martial arts fans appreciate his efforts in this.

As for the plot, it is forward-moving and balanced in its inclusion of graphic action scenes and tense political conversations between key power-players. It helped me to relate the story to my favourite Star Wars movies, of which I’m sure Campbell is familiar. George Lucas was influenced by Japanese films and developed his jedi from sources similar to Campbell’s. The ninja in Black Dove resemble the jedi and rebel forces who unite to assault the galactic empire.

In fact, in some ways, Black Dove reads cinematically. Campbell’s writing style aims to relay scenes as if he were viewing them, including every word that is said and every move that is made. At times, this is effective, allowing the reader to draw his own inferences. However, I found it tedious at times, reading extended scenes of dialogue and description which may have been summarised or integrated. There are some editing issues in Black Dove which were distracting. Again, this was mainly around dialogue, but once I determined to overlook this, the story flowed reasonably well. Any real fan of the subject content should enjoy the book regardless.

I won’t promise I will read the next two books in the triology, but I do congratulate Stuart for completing his trilogy. It is a significant accomplishment and his work deserves recognition at least by readers in this genre.

Buy Black Dove on Amazon.

Antony Millen is a Canadian living and writing in New Zealand and the author of Redeeming Brother Murrihy: The River to Hiruharama and Te Kauhanga: A Tale of Space(s)

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