The Kensei by Jon F. Merz
Reading level: Adult
Genre: Urban fantasy
Trade paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Release date: January 18, 2011
Series: Lawson Vampire #5
Source: Personal shelf
Reviewed by: Jenn
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.
I happened upon The Kensei when I was checking out the amazing bookcloseouts.ca sale that Tynga told us all about at the end of July. I’d never heard of Jon F. Merz before but I thought that the book had a really eye-catching cover and an intriguing synopsis and so I had to pick it up, especially since it was a steal at $2.99 (also currently 2,10$ on Amazon.com).
There was nothing I didn’t love about this book. It’s the fifth book in the Lawson Vampire series so I thought that I might have trouble getting into The Kensei but the author has done a great job of making the book accessible to new readers. There are references to what must be previous books but they didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the story or the characters.
In this series, vampires aren’t your typical undead. Instead, they’re alive, they live in secret from humans, and they absorb life essence from drinking blood. I really liked this mythology. Although there are elements we’ve seen before, the world felt lively and fresh and I wanted to know more as I was reading the novel. Plus, Lawson is a great protagonist. He’s 150 years old and works as a Fixer, eliminating threats to vampire society, which has turned him into one of the those wonderfully tortured characters, all weighed down by past deeds and the cracks he’s discovered in what he thought was an orderly hierarchy. And if that isn’t enough, he’s got a good sense of humour (though not as great as Kevin Hearne’s Atticus O’Sullivan) and some serious martial arts skills. Unfortunately, in some ways, he’s now one of the people he used to kill since he’s fallen in love with a human. You can understand why because Talya is awesome. She’s tough, beautiful, and fierce, more than a match for Lawson in every way. Their relationship gives The Kensei its emotional heart and I thought it was really well done.
The Kensei is set in Japan and you can tell that Jon F. Merz has been there from the way he immerses the reader in the setting. All of the little details are so right and they help create a very authentic backdrop for some great action. His bio says that Merz is an actual ninja and I think this is why all of the parts of the story related to combat and the martial arts training that sends Lawson to Japan in the first place feel so real.
I’m definitely going to try to get my hands of the rest of the series. I’ll keep you posted on how it turns out. But before I sign off, I want to leave you with a couple great lines from The Kensei:
"I ever tell you how much effortless lethality turns me on?"
"I’ve heard your wit is something else. I do enjoy the commentary that comes out of your mouth." "You should see me vomit. I’m a riot."