Thursday, March 3, 2011

Review: The Kensei by Jon F. Merz

The Kensei (Lawson Vampire Novels, Book 5)
by Jon F. Merz
Release Date: January 18, 2011
2011 St. Martin's Griffin
Paperback Edition; 304 Pages
ISBN: 978-1-312-66223-3
Genre: Horror / Thriller
Source: Review Copy from Author

Meet Lawson. A cynical, wise-cracking vampire charged with protecting the Balance between vampires and humans, he is part cop, part spy, and part commando -- James Bond with fangs. Lawson mixes shrewd cunning with unmatched lethality to get his job done. He tries his best to dismantle conspiracies, dispatch bad guys, and live long enough to get home. In The Kensei, a battle-weary Lawson heads to Japan for a little rest and some advanced ninja training. But he no sooner steps off the plane than lands in the midst of a Yakuza turf war orchestrated by a shadowy figure known as the Kensei. With the help of Talya, a former KGB-assassin, Lawson must put a stop to the Kensei's organ trafficking networks, prevent the creation of an army of vampire-human hybrids, and save his own skin in the process.

My Thoughts
The Kensei hooked me right from the beginning as the non-stop action and Lawson's dry, sarcastic, witty humour drew me into a world that is familiar, but at the same time, pretty surreal.  I enjoyed the whole craziness of vampires who study martial arts and become vampire ninjas, at the center of which is a man who is tired of the fighting and needs a holiday.
At the center of all of this craziness is Lawson, a centuries old vampire known as the Fixer, whose job it is to settle scores in the vampire world and to put things to right no matter how he has to do it.  Unfortunately, Lawson has one big secret he needs to hide from the Council, and it is tearing him up inside.  Throw in a brother out for revenge, one who is also messing with vampires and is creating a whole new breed, and you have quite a mess.  I love how Lawson handles the whole mess with panache and style, all the while complaning about his holiday, or lack thereof.  He has also grown tired of being a Fixer; tired from all the killing, accidental and intentional, and is left at a crossroads at his life, which is why he is in Japan.  He is seeking peace and tranquility in his martial art, ninjutsu.  With assasins following him everywhere, the peace he seeks is nonexistent, and he is left wondering why he draws these issues to himself all of the time.
Talya, his big secret, also shows up in Tokyo on an agenda of her own.  The sparks fly and soon they are both questioning their lives and wondering how they can make things work out.  I adore Talya and love her kick-ass attitude.  She can be vulnerable at times, but I love how she lays it all on the line and how she never seems afraid of anything.  I was afraid the love story would become gushing, but luckily, Merz kept the gushing to a minimum and Talya was allowed to do what she does best, fight and destroy. 
While the plot is a little predictable, and I wasn't completely satisfied with the ending between The Kensei and Lawson, I did really enjoy the characters.  I also really enjoyed the writing style, even if it was a little choppy, as the bantor between the characters was witty, intriguing, and interesting.  All of the characters had unique peronality traits and quirky personalities that set them apart and I found myself rooting for them, even the so-called evil ones.  I also liked how Merz gives you just enough background information to understand what is happening in the novel so that it doesn't become intrusive;  you know where Lawson is coming from, the conspiracies he has dealt with, but not much more history than that.  I like that so I can go back and read the other novels without feeling like I've already read them.
The Kensei has plenty of twists and turns that will keep you interested, and the pace doesn't let up until the end.  Although it is the fifth book in the series, it can be read and understood as a stand-alone or you can go ahead and start at the beginning.  The setting for The Kensei is pretty incredible, and I really enjoyed the vivid descriptions of the various locations around Tokyo as it a place I have never visited and I appreciated the information.  For vampire lovers, you will enjoy the refreshing take on vampire myth in this novel as his imagination and creativity are something new, and for others, it is a good espionage novel.  I am looking forward to the sixth Lawson novel as he attempts to uncover some more conspiracies that are hinted at in The Kensei


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