4 out of 4 stars
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The Artful Dodger (Justin Reed) returns in Yakuza Dynasty by Eric Auxier, this time turning the series on its head by introducing a character from Justin's past that's so surprising it ends up surprising the reader as well! Yakuza Dynasty is the fourth book in the Artful Dodger series, but because it's an episodic series it stands alone. Aside from a sample of Jihadi Hijacking, this is my first foray into the series and I was never left confused or feeling like I missed out on a joke or reference.
Yakuza Dynasty kicks off with Justin having a bit of an identity crisis. A 15 year old with as much of a history as he's had attempting to adjust to "ordinary life" isn't an easy thing. He ends up getting in an argument with his adopted father and leaves the house to blow off steam, but his rage issues end up making things even worse. After hanging out with his girlfriend Joya for a while, he cools off and is ready to accept whatever punishment his dad will give him until his brain picks up on some Koreans who seem shifty. Is Justin being paranoid, or is he really in trouble? And if he IS in trouble, can he keep Joya safe?
There's so much more to the plot, but there are also so many spoilers to avoid! For a "Spy/Fly" novel, the book has more twists and turns than many mysteries I've read. When I thought about it a bit, the plot is almost ridiculously crazy in hindsight, yet when it's happening it's completely believable because of the way the story is told, and I absolutely wouldn't love it as much if it changed at all. Justin isn't an all-powerful warrior, he's just a well-trained kid, so much of the book had me worried how he'd survive or get out of whatever mess he's currently in. I felt his injuries, I felt weary when he was weak, and I felt nervous when he did. The action is also fantastic and fairly frequent - even if the book didn't have such a great plot, the action would've made the book impossible to put down on its own.
I really appreciated the mention that this book could be considered PG, although the little bit of violence may put it closer to PG-13. The book isn't gory, and while there's some good romance in the book it never goes anywhere raunchy. The book includes a glossary of "spy and foreign terms" in the back, things that may be especially helpful as Japanese terms are used frequently. While the glossary is nice, Eric does a great job of providing context clues nearly every time - I never once had to refer to the glossary even though I wasn't familiar with most of the terms before I read the book. All of this adds up to a book I can recommend to anyone old enough to read 150+ page books.
Speaking of recommending the book, I wholeheartedly do. As I mentioned earlier, I had sampled the third book in the Artful Dodger series before. While I enjoyed that, I was amazed that level of action and intrigue and humor could last the entire length of a book! Now that I've finished it, I want to go back and read the rest. That level of enthusiasm I have toward reading the series makes it easy for me to rate this one 4 out of 4 stars. It's one of the best books I've ever read, absolutely in the same league as the Harry Potter series or Ready Player One.
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