Blade of Dishonor by Thomas Pluck collects a three-part adventure—The War Comes Home, Devils and Dragons, and The Shadow Shogun—into the modern culmination of a centuries-old battle between ninja and samurai over a stolen sword (available September 10, 2013).
I have been reading Thomas Pluck’s fiction for quite some time now, and when I heard that he had a debut novel coming out, to say I was excited is to put it lightly. He has a certain style, a punchy language that puts the reader right into the action, successfully amping up my adrenalin and leaving me on the edge of my seat. This also has the effect of driving the story forward at break-neck speed, making it hard to put the book down until the very end. And to be honest, folks, I wanted more when it was over. Call me an adrenaline junkie if you will, but the rush his writing supplies is addictive.
The subject of ninjas and World War II would not have been my first choice, admittedly, but now that I’ve read it, I realize I will be broadening my horizons from now on. Both subjects were intriguing and fascinating. Mr. Pluck’s knowledge of them, especially the martial arts and fighting, was very impressive. He’s a fighter. Take one look at his author picture and you will see that he’s a force to be reckoned with. He knows his stuff. Each fight scene shines with intensity and bravado, but most of all, heart. His heart runs deep in everything I’ve read from him. Now we get nearly 300 pages of this. Where to start? At the beginning, of course.
Rage Cage Reeves returns home after a long stint in the Mideast and finds his grandfather, Butch, a World War II war hero, caught up in a deadly battle over a sword.
This is no ordinary sword, however. We soon learn that this sword is much sought after, and the ones who lay claim to it have come to take it back. Reeves meets Tara, a hot chick with a lead foot, and soon sparks are flying. Next, in steps Mikio, a samurai warrior who teams up with Reeves after their own altercation, and vows to get the sword back, even if it means giving up his life. Their adventures take them to Tokyo where they are forced into a battle to the death.
Butch was the most endearing character for me. Through flashbacks, we are provided with his blood-stained past during World War II. Many of these scenes were raw with the reality of war and torture. Some of the pain that Butch endured left my body aching. Butch and Reeves are similar in that they’re both hard-headed and don’t give up. Granted, Reeves is a lot tougher and physically advantaged, but don’t let Butch’s missing leg and wheelchair fool you; he won’t go down without a fight. There was also just enough of a sweet love story between Butch and his late wife that it effectively gave a break to all of the violence.
Some of my favorite exchanges were between Butch and his grandson, Reeves, showing Butch’s personality and style of tough love, such as this one:
The blade gleamed like a fang of oily polished silver. A zig zag of cloudy etchings ran from the iron guard to the chisel point. It was so sharp you couldn’t see the edge, and when Reeves had tested it with his thumb, he thought he cut himself to the bone. He wrapped his shirt around it and carefully slid the blade back into the wooden sheath. It didn’t make a sound. He thought swords sang when you drew them, like in the movies, but this one spoke only dead silence. He put it back, but Butch caught him over the blood-spattered sink, trying to tourniquet his thumb with a knotted wash rag.
“Stick your damn thumb in your mouth like a baby,” Butch snapped and dug out a surplus medical kit. He gave Reeves his belt to bite while he stitched the wound.
“I told your dumb ass not to touch the sword,” Butch said, squinting at his work while young Reeves fought back tears. “Of all the hell I went through, that sword’s all I’ve got to show. That and an empty pant leg. So don’t ever touch it again. Or you’ll see a side of me you don’t want to see.”
Butch dabbed the cut with mercurochrome while Reeves put tooth marks in the belt leather. He wrapped it in gauze and tape and slapped Reeves on the behind. “Everyone gets a second chance, kid. But no one gets a third one. So quit being a shitbird.”
Even with so much passion and loyalty in the characters, the real star of the story is the sword. Each of them wants the sword for their own reasons, yet none of them seems to realize that the sword doesn't belong to them, would never belong to them. It's much bigger than that. The sword is the true heart of the story.
Another intriguing concept was the idea of how fighters, even when pitted against each other, carry a type of respect for each other. This may not be news to anybody who fights either for a living or for recreation, but this was something I had never considered. It was an important piece of information that helped me to understand why Reeves and Mikio team up, and Reeves explains it nicely:
“I’m glad you two are getting along, but I’m tired of playing chauffeur to the Fight Club twins. An hour ago you wanted to shoot him.”
Reeves shrugged. “You wouldn’t understand.”
“Try me,” Tara said. “If you think I’m stupid, you can get out and walk.”
Reeves sighed. “I didn’t say that. You saved my ass three times already. If you’re stupid, I’m a damn moron. I just mean you’re not a fighter.”
“Honey, I’m –“
“I mean in the ring,” Reeves said. “It’s like we’re both military. It stays with you, if you do it long enough. Are EMTs like that? Kinda like medics?”
“Yeah,” Tara said. “I was an ambulance driver. But that’s a boy’s club. They shoved us around, didn’t think we belonged there. I was the only girl in my bus, and when I crossed paths with another gal wearing the uniform, we were like sisters. It was a tough gig.”
“There,” Reeves said. “That’s it. You give each other respect, unless they’re a damn shitbird.” He looked out at the snow, catching himself using Butch’s words. “You speak the same language. There’s a little something there, brotherhood. Maybe more.”
There’s so much more I could say, but I don’t want to give away too much. Grab a copy of Blade of Dishonor and find yourself immersed in the ways of the samurai, cage fighters, and history. All wrapped up within a damn fine story.
To learn more or order a copy, click here.
Amber Keller is a writer who delves into dark, speculative fiction, particularly horror and suspense/thrillers. You can find her work on her Amazon Author Page and she also features many short stories on Diary of a Writer. A member of the Horror Writers Association, she contributes to many websites and eMagazines and you can follow her on Twitter at @akeller9.