Five Great Martial Arts Fiction Novels (Part 1.)

For all fans of martial arts, action and adventure, a good range of fighting fiction is a must. 

Here I’ve reviewed five great martial arts fiction novels that stand apart from the tired Wuxia and Manga-style genres, through great storytelling and even better characters. 

They include novels from Teenage to Adult ages and feature an array of Kung Fu Monks, Ninja, Samurai and Spartans to name just a few. Enjoy!

One of the all-time classic martial arts novels, Musashi follows the story of the real-life (but somewhat fictionalised) Samurai-warrior Musashi Miyamoto.

The story was originally a serial printed in a Japanese national newspaper and follows the warrior from childhood through the events of a war-torn Japan, eventually pitting him against his long-term rival Sasaki Kojiro. 

Musashi is in recognised in real life as one of Japan’s most legendary warriors; he is credited with inventing the style of dual-sword wielding and penning ‘The Book Of Five Rings’ which has inspired martial artists for hundreds of years. 

Although Musashi is no light undertaking (more than 900 pages), it’s thrilling, historically accurate and above all, full of epic martial arts action!

A Sudden Dawn follows the story of Bodhidharma, the semi-mythical Indian Buddhist master and founder of martial arts in the Shaolin Temple. 

During the late fifth century, Bodhidharma and his disciples, a pair of pacifist monks and an army deserter named Ko, venture from the Indian holy lands across the Himalayas. They traverse the mighty Yangtze River from Tibet in the west to Beijing on the east coast. Along the way, Bodhidharma defies traditional Buddhist methods and ideas of the times, developing his own understanding of ‘the way’ and incorporating the training he received as a member of the Kshatriya – the Indian warrior class – alongside it.

The novel (although of debatable historical veracity) is an incredible tale, offering a great deal of insight into both Buddhism and Ancient Chinese culture. The style of writing is suited for adult readers, as is much of the content, which gets both dark and graphic at times. Overall, A Sudden Dawn offers a great story that dares to tread a different path from the traditional good-versus-evil warrior novels we know so well. 

The Way of the Warrior is the first instalment in the Young Samurai series. It follows Jack Fletcher, a twelve-year-old British ‘Rigging Monkey’ aboard the Alexandria, a trading ship searching for the route to Japan in the seventeen hundreds. When his crew are murdered by Ninja, Jack finds himself at the hands of a local Samurai Master who, in return for his allegiance, offers Jack salvation through ‘Budo’ or the way of the warrior. 

Jack, marginalised and on the edge of society, begins to find redemption through his training until threats, in the form of assassins, rival students and betrayals come at him thick and fast. 

Although The Way of the Warrior pays homage to heavy-weight classics like Musashi and Shogun, it’s an easily accessible book for younger and older readers alike and offers inspiration for anyone interested in Japanese Culture or the art of the bow, sword, or fist.

As the first non-Asian story on the list, Gates of Fire retells the tale of The Ancient-Greek Battle of Thermopylae. A legendary struggle pitting a handful of Spartans against the overwhelming Persian army of more than two million men. If that sounds strikingly familiar you may well have seen the Frank Miller graphic novel adaptation 300, and you probably know the story already.

The free-Greek army marches to meet the Persian forces at the narrow corridor that marks their entranceway to Greece and a critical tactical stronghold. Bloody, ferocious destruction ensues. 

Gates of Fire is renowned for its accuracy, detailing of the training and combat tactics of the Spartans, which gave them the ability to even consider such a heroic feat. Although the book is unlikely to be to the taste of many younger readers with graphic accounts of war (among other strongly adult themes), older teens/young adults with a taste for battle may well enjoy the carnage!

*Disclaimer – I’m actually the author of this novel. However, I feel it belongs on the list thanks to the diversity it offers from the usual Ninja and Samurai tales.

Where Tigers Roam follows the path of a teenage brother and sister Peter and Sophie Wallace. In 1935, they travel deep into the treacherous highlands between Northern Vietnam and Southern China as part of a missionary group. When their party are attacked and their parents murdered, Peter awakens in a remote village with fractured memories, whilst Sophie is forced into the polygamous household of the local warlord that killed her family. 

As death comes calling, Peter is rescued by a Taoist Master who trains him and his companion in the ways of the sword, staff and fist. Meanwhile, Sophie sets about freeing herself from a life of imprisonment at all costs. The pair both embark on epic journeys through the forests and mountains of the highlands, surviving against enemies and the wilderness in an all-or-nothing struggle for family, revenge, redemption, and escape.

Where Tigers Roam is available here. Whilst the upcoming sequel Where Dragons Hide is due out in 2020, you can sign up to pre-order or receive a free sample by following Augustus on social media.

As a martial artist, author and reader, who truly believes in the power a good story can hold, I recommend all of the above for anyone with a taste for action and adventure. 

Although the novels listed above are all historical, Part 2. (coming soon) will look at more contemporary martial arts-themed stories. In the meantime, please comment or contact me with any recommendations or additions to the list and follow me on Twitter, Facebook or Goodreads to get updates about new articles, books and special offers.