April, 1985 Warner Books
If you’re looking for an ‘80s ninja fest with guys in black costumes jumping through the air and slashing at each other with swords, then you’ll likely be disappointed in this second installment of The Year Of The Ninja Master. But if you’re looking for a quasi-mystical excursion into unfathomable prose, plus a lot of travelogue about Isreal, then chances are you’re gonna love it!
But man, it’s becoming increasingly hard to believe that this is the same Ric Meyers who wrote the awesome Ninja Master #2: Mountain Of Fear. (On the other hand, it is easy to believe it’s the same Ric Meyers who wrote Book Of The Undead #1: Fear Itself.) With this four-volume sequel series, it’s as if Meyers wanted to drop the pulp action of Ninja Master and go for more of an Eric Lustbader vibe. And as I think even my six-year-old kid could tell you, that was a mistake. I mean I can appreciate that Meyers wanted to do more than just a sleazy cash-in on ‘80s ninja action, but at the same time that’s exactly what I want this series to be. Instead he’s gone for a strange, almost surreal vibe, a very dark one, and in the process has dropped the entire “ninja vigilante” setup of Ninja Master.
Anyway, it takes us quite a bit of time to learn this, but Lion’s Fire takes place two years after first volume Dragon Fire. The setup for The Year Of The Ninja Master appears to concern the former Brett Wallace, the hero of the previous series, now calling himself “Daremo” and on the run from his former friends while waging war on some shadowy ninja overlord sort of group that is behind world events. Or something. But Ric Meyers is one of those men’s adventure authors who wants to write about everyone except for the series protagonist; in truth, Daremo only appears on a handful of pages. The true protagonist, as with Dragon Fire, is Jeff Archer, now sometimes arbitrarily referred to as “Yasuru” (Japanese for “archer”). This series could more accurately be titled The Year of the Ninja Master’s Student.
Meyers took poor Archer through the wringer last time, hitting him with a crippling nerve disease (that caused him to shit himself repeatedly!) and then having him beaten up throughout the book. So in the climactic events of Dragon Fire, a South American shaman-type localized Archer’s nerve disease in his left arm, so now Archer goes around with a limp left arm and must fight one-handed. It soon becomes evident that Meyers is inspired by the various “one-armed swordsman” movies in ‘70s kung-fu cinema; despite only having one arm, Archer is of course more deadly than most everyone he meets, and there are lots of parts where he takes on several opponents who understimate this one-armed guy.
The action picks up in Isreal, and will stay there for the entire narrative. Archer doesn’t even appear until about a hundred pages in – as with the previous book, this one’s a too-long 287 pages – and the protagonist of the first hundred pages isn’t even anyone we’ve met before, but a sexy Israeli female cop by the name of Rachel. Meyers introduces sleaze to the series with an opening in which Rachel picks up some dude on the road – not knowing or caring that he happens to be a Muslim terrorist – and takes him back to a cabin for some sexual tomfoolery. After which a crying Rachel cuts her own thigh. The lady has some mental turmoils, and we learn that this “pick up a guy, screw him, then cut her thigh” thing is a recurring schtick for Ms. Rachel.
The reader can’t help but wonder what any of this has to do with ninjas. It gets even more involved with Rachel getting in a firefight with some terrorist-types and her colleagues getting wiped out. There’s also the revelation of a plot involving nuclear armageddon. It’s all like a different series. Occasionally we will have murky cutovers to Daremo, who himself is in Israel, surrounded by an “army of dead” who exist in his mind – the ghosts of everyone he has killed. There is an attempt at pseudo-Revelations imagery with talk of a “Hooded Man” and metaphysical confrontations of the Lion taking on the Dragon and etc, etc. I mean it’s all very weird, and on a different level than the previous series.
Oh and adding to that Biblical vibe, we get a lot of stuff about the Biblical Rachel. I mean a lot of it. And a lot of incessant travelogue about Isreal. We also get that Meyers staple of a female character being depredated; Rachel is captured and tortured by terrorists who grill her for info. And yes of course this part features the recurring Meyers motif of the female character being gagged. However she’s saved by the “cloaked one,” Daremo himself, who somehow is drawn to Rachel and has been shadowing her…if I understood all the metaphysics correctly, it’s because Rachel’s estranged husband is like a nuclear scientist or something, who might be part of that nuclear attack subplot. Also, there’s a wildly unbelievable reveal toward the end of the novel of who has been posing for the past several months as Rachel’s husband.
On page 87 the actual protagonist of the series shows up: Jeff Archer, standing there along the road in Israel with his limp left arm and getting a ride from Rachel. Somehow he’s become fluent in Hebrew since the last volume. Meyers really goes to some odd places with these two characters. Essentially, they fall in love over the span of a few days – but it’s a cosmic sort of love…one that actually entails them being able to speak to each other telepathically. Yes, read that again. A little past midway through the book the two are sending each other their thoughts and communicating mentally and it’s…well, it’s just lame. While the sex is mostly off-page, there is infrequent action, with Archer displaying his one-armed skills against various opponents. A memorable action scene occurs in a “harlot” encampment.
But where is Daremo, aka the protagonist once known as Brett Wallace? He’s here and there. He mostly appears for a few pages intermittently, getting in weird pseudo-apocalyptic battles with the Chinese ninja who was posing as Brett Wallace in the previous volume. This villain even has his own quasi-Biblical name: The Figure In Black, and as described he sounds like the second-wave version of Snake-Eyes, from the mid-‘80s: the one in the black costume with the visor over his eyes. This is exactly how the Figure In Black is described. He almost kicks Daremo’s ass in a desert battle, and the intimation is that he is the representative of the ninja world order that wants Brett Wallace/Daremo dead.
Speaking of which, on page 225 Rhea and Hama show up, aka Brett’s former girlfriend and colleague, respectively. As we’ll recall, in Dragon Rising Hama was retconned into being this guy who hated the hell out of Brett Wallace and Jeff Archer, resenting these white guys from infringing on Japanese-only ninjutsu. He continues acting in the role of villain here, blindly following the whims of ninja tradition, which demands that Daremo be killed for disrespecting the clan. Meanwhile Rhea just stands around blinking away the tears and not doing anything else – a far cry from the tough ninja-babe she was in Ninja Master. These two get in a quick fight with Archer – who is again fighting in place of Daremo – and here Archer shows off some surprise skills with his limp left arm. Regardless, it’s annoying because this entire Hama-Rhea subplot just comes off as a nuissance.
But then, the entire plot of Lion’s Fire is a nuissance. Meyers really goes hard for the metaphysical stuff with Archer and Rachel suffering some sort of mind-explosion that cancels out their short-lived telepathic abilities, there’s that lame and unbelievable reveal of who’s been posing as Rachel’s husband, and the book ends with everyone in the exact same place they were in at the start: Daremo is still off in the shadows, hiding from everyone, Archer is obediently pursuing him – and fighting for him, and Rhea and Hama are duty-bound to kill them both.
Surprisingly, there was another four-volume series after The Year Of The Ninja Master, this one titled War Of The Ninja Master. Hopefully these later volumes drop the pseudo-mysticism and get back to the vibe of the original series. Even Vengeance Is His was better than this!