“Against the undead, the Nine only have two choices, fighting as one or becoming them.”
In Undead Samurai, Baptiste Pinson Wu expertly blends historical fiction, fantasy, horror, and mystery to create a deadly entertaining and refreshingly diverse samurai tale full of action, honour, redemption, purpose, (queer) love, and a whole lot of heart.
Undead Samurai smoothly transports the reader back to an alternative version of 1625 Japan, which is under dire threat of the Izanagi curse. The last hope of the nation lies in the hands of a motley crew of warriors gathered by the young daimyō of Owari. But as they set out on their quest to destroy the source of the curse’s power, hunted by undead samurai and shinobi mercenaries, they soon learn that their own haunting pasts and inner demons might be the biggest dangers and challenges to face after all.
Now, when I tell you Undead Samurai started off strong, I mean it started off strong. The prologue takes place 65 years before the rest of the narrative, and within just a few pages we are brutally exposed to the horrors that are yet to come in the rest of the story. Talk about setting the tone and creating an irresistible hook, I simply could not stop turning the pages after that!
From there, we are launched into a masterfully crafted multi-POV story wherein each of the nine members of this diverse motley crew of warriors really gets their time to shine. You’d think that introducing nine separate POV characters in a relatively short and super action-packed story would not result in the deepest character work, but the opposite couldn’t be more true.
As each of these characters is introduced, we get a quick glimpse into their past through a short flashback, which immediately fleshes out their backstory and personal motivations for being on this quest. I personally enjoyed those sections of Undead Samurai the most, as that is where the richest character work happened and where the deepest emotional connection was established for me personally. Of course there were some that immediately captured my heart (Yuki, Tsuki, and Ame, to no one’s surprise), but I genuinely enjoyed what each of these nine characters brought to the story.
I think it really helped that this cast of characters was so refreshingly diverse, which I was admittedly not anticipating and was thus very pleasantly surprised by. These characters come from all walks of life, and I thought it was beautiful to see such a wide range of ages, genders, sexualities, and even disabilities represented. I especially wasn’t expecting to find such heartachingly beautiful queer love in this story, but I welcomed it with open arms and thought it was executed to perfection!
And all that brilliant character work ultimately helped me be on-board for all the action that takes centre stage in Undead Samurai. Normally I am the type of reader who skims through fight scenes, but because the personal stakes felt so high, I was completely invested and glued to the page. Add to that the fact that Baptiste Pinson Wu is just a master at writing pulse-pounding, visceral, and cinematic action scenes which come to life before your eyes, and it is really no surprise that I devoured this book in two sittings.
The backdrop of feudal Japan as a setting also only enhanced my sense of immersion, and I thought it was brilliant how the author played with history, culture, and legends to create his own unique story. I am admittedly not overly familiar with this time period, especially concerning this area of the world, but I did recognize some very legendary fights and characters pop up in Undead Samurai. Most notably for me was Miyamoto Musashi, who appears as one of the nine warriors, though the author clearly had a lot of fun portraying this renowned swordsman in an entertaining new light.
Even though there were some sections in Undead Samurai that felt a tiny bit too frenetic and chaotic for my personal tastes, I truly had an absolute blast from start to finish. And while this book stands perfectly well on its own, the beautifully bittersweet ending has left me yearning for more stories set in this rich world and following these endearing characters.
Undead Samurai truly feels like a love letter to Japan, and I am deeply impressed with how brilliantly Baptiste Pinson Wu executed this story. It beautifully balances the action with the emotion, creating an unforgettable tale that will tug on your heartstrings in the most unexpected ways. So, no matter your reading preferences, I guarantee you don’t want to miss out on this genre blendy gem of a book!
Thank you to the author for providing me with an eARC in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.