Winter Raven (Path of the Samurai Book 1)
Canelo Digital Publishing
I haven’t reviewed a great deal of books on this blog as of yet, but I’d like to think that I’ve reviewed enough, and read enough books over the course of my life, to be able to confidently say that one of the marks of a genuinely great writer is that they are able to change the style and manner of their writing – i.e. their ‘voice’ – depending on what it is that they are writing. An excellent case in point is Adam Baker, whose latest title is Winter Raven, the first book in his new Path of the Samurai series. Mr Baker’s previous focus has been on the fantastic post-apocalyptic zombie novels (Outpost, Juggernaut, Terminus, Impact and the novella Killchain), all of which had a highly distinct writing style; short, staccato-like sentences and terse character conversations, along with memorable characters and an overarching atmosphere, well-realised, of the grim inevitability of mankind’s extinction.
By contrast, although Winter Raven retains the same excellent world-building and interesting characters, Mr Baker has infused it with an altogether different ‘voice’; Winter Raven has a much gentler pace and is far more introspective, with some interesting things to say about the nature of Japanese society during the 16th Century. The author has obviously done his research, especially going by the Bibliography included at the end of the book (a rarity in my experience), and the Japan of 1532 that his characters travel through during their journey is vividly realised and certainly feels authentic.
The characters inhabiting the novel are just as well-realised as Baker’s feudal Japan, particularly the nameless, mysterious Samurai and the young girl who travels with him as an apprentice. Unlike his previous works, even by the end of the novel we still know relatively little about the two protagonists – not even their names. But Baker is able to eke out just enough interesting details about both characters and their motivations that this never feels frustrating or detrimental to the story; to the contrary, their almost ethereal nature only contributes to the overall atmosphere of the book. The supporting cast of characters are also well realised and developed enough to contribute to the story, particularly Commander Raku, the antagonist who trails the Samurai and girl for the majority of the story.
My favourite part of Mr Baker’s previous works have always been the fights, both gunfights and physical brawls, which have always had a satisfying solidity to them. This novel may feature far fewer fight scenes than Mr Baker’s previous works, but when they do occur, they are slickly-written and hugely enjoyable; mirroring the reality of a fight between Samurai during the period, they are short, brutal and violent affairs, and stay with the reader long after they are finished. The final setpiece of the novel, the infiltration and eventual assault of a stronghold, is particularly memorable, especially as Baker slowly ratchets up the tension; I was genuinely left guessing at whether it would be successful right up until almost the last page.
Winter Raven is a distinctly different work to previous novels by the author, and I suspect that this was a deliberate decision by Mr Baker. I believe that he has absolutely succeeded, breaking out into another genre while still retaining the powerful writing, skilled world-building and intriguing characters that were hallmarks of his other works. I cannot wait to read the next novel in the series, and heartily recommend this to anyone wanting a good read.