Review of The Kensei by Jon F. Merz on SFSignal

My review of The Kensei, the 5th Lawson vampire novel by Jon F. Merz, has been posted on

An excerpt:

When you mention vampire and sword in the same sentence, most people will think Blade or they talk about hacking away in frustration at the last Twilight DVD (apologies in advance to my wife for the Twilight digs). The so-called “Urban Fantasy” genre has be overdone to death (pun intended) with either too much romance bordering on porn or repetitious scenarios.

The Kensei is not Blade, it is certainly not Twilight. It is a excellently paced action thriller that happens to have a secret agent vampire as the main character. It is written in a realistic fashion, where if you took the vampire-esque pieces out, an excellently paced action thriller would still be in place. It is also the first book I have read in one sitting in a long long time.

I am the default SF Signal recipient for books with a martial arts slant and am always ready for a story with well written martial arts dialogue, tradition and scenes.

The Lawson series provides an interesting take on the vampire world that mixes in some Qigong / martial arts culture. The genesis of the vampire “race” is that while some stone age hunters drank the blood of their animal kills thinking to gain their strength, others drank the blood of their human kills.

From page 12 (of the Advance Reader copy):

“Over time, our bodies developed a means of distilling the life force energy – what they call ki in Japanese, chi in Chinese or even prana in the yogic traditions – from the blood we drank. The ingestion of this life force energy meant we lived longer and had above-average instincts and reflexes. We can see extremely well at night. And we have incredible powers of regeneration.”

Wood kills them, and the casual explanation hearkens back to the philosophy of balance with the elements: Earth, Water, Wood, Fire (some descriptions put in Air, some have four elements, some five, some eight to match trigrams and some thirteen for martial arts postures/directions). Wood balances out Earth, which is why wood (and wood by-products!) kill vampires like Lawson.

Though my son and I will sit through any (and I mean any) martial arts movie for enjoyment, to describe this in words in a realistic way is difficult. Real fights never come off as choreographed, but an author must do his best to describe the action, the reactions and the thought that goes into this and make it as realistic and entertaining as possible. Jonathan Maberry (with the Joe Ledger series) has been my favorite on doing this beforehand, but Jon Merz gives him a run for his money.

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