Steve Barlow and Steve Skidmore have teamed up to give us an a new series in which the reader decides which way the story will go, and what the ending will be. After reading the first few pages the reader will come to a choice. You may have to choose which type of weapon to use, which monster to pursue, or whether to stand and fight or retreat and come back with more firepower. Depending on your choices, you may go on to the next level, or be defeated and have to start the book all over ( unless you had the foresight to place a book marker at the choice pages and you skip back and change your decisions - if only we could do that in real life!) I find with my son, this type of book really gets him involved in the stories, in a sense this is very much like playing a video game, as you defeat each boss and progress to the next level, or fail and meet your doom.
With all the books in this series, you play the Hunter, a mercenary type character ( although payment is never mentioned), or soldier of fortune against the supernatural forces of evil, zombies, vampires, werewolves and demons. You are always equipped an armoury of exciting weapons. In this book you get a Korean fighting fan, a mankiri, Sui three bladed daggers, Shuriken stars, a katana, a deer horn knife, ninjato swords, and a hanbo ash quarterstaff, as well as the traditional firearms. The traditional weapons however are inscribed with magical kanji, which form spells against the demons.
Demon Hunter begins with a visit to a legendary Japanese martial arts instructor, Master Shoki. No mention is made of the legendary Shoki the demon fighter ( who pacifies or expels demons rather than killing them) of Chinese and Japanese folklore, but I think the name can not be accidental. After training with teh master instructor, you prepare for some r&r on the island of Okinawa when a massive earthquake strikes releasing all manner of demons from the underworld. You must defeat each lesser boss, which will vanquish the demons in his command before facing the ultimate challenge, Shinigami - the god of death.
My son really enjoyed this book. Like many boys, he seems to have a fascination with weaponry which is lost on me. Although he is now reading on his own, I read these multiple ending books to him as he gets confused turning back and forth to find the right pages after each defeat. And to be honest - we both still enjoy sharing some quiet time with a story before bed. I can't say that I find these stories very exciting, but I can see where many boys would really enjoy and them and that is what counts. These books have the fast pace and energy of a video game, making them highly suited for boys. My own son is 6, and a bit on the young side for these books, but he does really like them. Ideally I would recommend these for ages 7 -13.
I did like the fact that making the right choice eventually paid off in the book. There is one section where the hunter must choose to save a child, or take a safer course for himself. My son insisted on saving the child, even though it got killed over and over, but he eventually found a way through in which he saves the youngster as well. I liked the fact that weapons named actually exist, at least the ones we looked up online, as are teh names of all the creatures or demons, although they are not all really demons in Japanese folklore. For instance the Hibagon, seems to me more of a Japanese version of bigfoot than a demonic manifestation in actual folklore.
I also like the fact, that while this story still has plenty of violence and gore, it does have a few other choices as well. Will you accept the guidance of Hashuk (Hash-Inau-uk Kamuy) the Goddess of the Hunt? Will you attack the lion like shishi who guard a temple, or humbly submit to their wisdom and beg for their assistance? As always each choice will determine your fate. You may find helpful allies here, but place your faith in the wrong hands and you will meet your doom.
On the downside of this book, I know many people who would find the idea of demons in a child's book very unsettling. I do not think these demons are satanic, but I know some who would consider any demon such. I feel these creatures are instead monsters from traditional folklore. Obviously if this a concern for you, then this book is not a good a choice, and it is something to consider if buying a book as a gift. I also think this could be scary for some young children. But for those who love horror stories and a bit of violence and gore, this may be just the thing to encourage a child to turn to books rather than video games for awhile at least. It is not great literature - but it isn't meant to be. In my opinion the purpose of this book is just to get boys into reading, and it does that very well, so 5 stars from my family.