The Big Thrill Sits Down to Discuss THE NINJA’S OATH with Tori Eldridge
International action adventure ensues when Lily Wong—a Chinese-Norwegian modern-day ninja—travels from Shanghai to Japan to help family friend and former triad enforcer, Lee Chang, locate and rescue his kidnapped twelve-year-old niece while, back home in Los Angeles, her father’s health wanes.
Their mission is aided and complicated by an enigmatic assassin with a discomforting fascination for Lily. When the hunt for the niece leads to another missing relative, the trio of dangerous heroes—ninja, triad, and assassin—are pitted against an even greater foe. Meanwhile, Chang’s family must be moved from the shikumen house in Old Shanghai before the government tears it down. This would be simpler if not for the feud between brothers and the old resentments and intrigues entwined with the stunning history of the city itself.
Lily is pushed to her limits as she faces potentially insurmountable odds and worries about her father’s undiagnosed disease. At the same time, she is shocked by the true identity of her ninja teacher—known only Sensei—and the truth behind why he left Japan.
Award winning author Tori Eldridge recently spent time with The Big Thrill discussing her latest thriller, THE NINJA’S OATH.
A novel is such a major undertaking; there’s the writing of it, of course, then you’re spending months and months revising, polishing, and then promoting it. How did you know this was the book you wanted to spend the next couple of years on?
Since THE NINJA’S OATH closes a four-book window in Lily Wong’s life, I wanted to push her (and me) farther than before. So I brought the assassin J Tran back to torment and entice, doubled down on the ninja-triad teamwork between Lily and Lee Chang, and revealed the mystery behind Sensei, Lily’s ninja teacher from Japan. Meanwhile, I amped up the family drama and wound everything around the history and vitality of Shanghai. I wrote the book during the pandemic while our son’s family—and my baby granddaughter—were locked down in Shanghai. Writing this story helped me feel closer to them.
Can you pinpoint a moment or incident that sparked the idea for this book?
It happened on the first day of my visit to Shanghai. Our eldest son lived in the Former French Concession on the renovated top floor of an old shikumen house. In place of the skyscraper jungle one might expect, the FFC blends ancient and modern China with old European charm. It was a startling and fascinating experience to enter the dingy lane house with its rotted wood stairs and excess belongings piled floor to ceiling in the halls. The stench of cat litter, tobacco, and cooking grease fought with cleaning solvents and stale air. The first floor apartment had been crammed into what once served as the kitchen. The second-floor apartments had been bedrooms, with the bathroom they shared opening directly to the stairs. As I worried about our son’s home environment, he unlocked the door to a quaint penthouse apartment with peaked ceilings, varnished beams, and a tiny balcony that peeked above the rooftops to blooming jacaranda trees. Despite the top floor’s renovation, I could spot signs of its pre-and post-Mao Zedung evolution. This one building on a quintessential lane in historic FFC exemplified Shanghai. I knew at that moment, I would send Lily Wong there, not just to Shanghai but inside that shikumen house. Since Lily’s father had hired a Shanghainese cook, I knew the plot and characters in THE NINJA’S OATH would center around him.
I also wanted to portray a biracial Asian protagonist who was enriched by her complicated cultural upbringing without following the more common trope of being torn between two worlds.
When you first created your protagonist for this book, did you see an empty space in crime lit that you wanted to fill? What can you share about the inspiration for that character?
I had never read a novel with a modern-day ninja heroine. Nor had I seen my ninja martial arts portrayed in what I considered to be a contemporary and authentic way. It was important to me to bust through the stereotypes and share the facets of my training that have meant the most to me.
I also wanted to portray a biracial Asian protagonist who was enriched by her complicated cultural upbringing without following the more common trope of being torn between two worlds. I felt this growing up in Hawai‘i with my Hawaiian, Chinese mother and my North Dakota Norwegian dad. Making Lily Wong Chinese and Norwegian let me share parts of my own heritage in a hopefully fascinating way. But I also focused on universal themes. Ultimately, I wanted to write thrillers that would exhilarate and intrigue my readers, yet touch a familiar chord.
In addition to a great read, what do you hope readers will take away from this story?
This book has more high-octane action and emotional crisis than any of the Lily Wong thrillers. It also brings all of the beloved characters together with an exciting finale to a four-book set. I’m not saying the series is done, but I do hope the reader feels surprised and satisfied at the end. If they met Lily Wong through THE NINJA’S OATH, I hope they race to their favorite bookseller and buy the other three books!
What can you share about what you’re working on next?
I’m polishing up a new domestic mystery adventure about an Oregon ranger who returns home to Kaua‘i to find her beloved family in crisis. It dives into my own Native Hawaiian heritage. I hope to share a deep and thrilling story only a kanaka maoli author could write. I also have a Lily Wong short story coming this November in JOE LEDGER: UNBREAKABLE and two more thriller short stories in anthologies coming in 2024.
Tori Eldridge is the bestselling author of the Lily Wong mystery thriller series, nominated for the Anthony, Lefty and Macavity Awards and winner of the 2021 Crimson Scribe Award for Best Book of the Year. Tori’s Brazilian dark fantasy thriller, Dance Among the Flames, was inspired by one of her screenplays that made the semi-finals for an Academy Nicholl Fellowship. Her shorter works appear in numerous anthologies, including CRIME HITS HOME and the inaugural reboot of WEIRD TALES MAGAZINE.
Before writing, Tori performed as an actress, singer, dancer on Broadway, television, film. She holds a fifth-degree black belt in To-Shin Do and has traveled the U.S. teaching the ninja martial arts. Born and raised in Honolulu—of Hawaiian, Chinese, Norwegian descent—Tori has visited nine countries, including Brazil, China, and Japan. Learn more at her website.
THE NINJA’S OATH with Tori Eldridge