Author: Cole Gibsen
Series: A Katana Novel, book 1
Genre: Urban Fantasy YA
Release date: March 8, 2012
Challenge: Debut Author Challenge, YA/MG Fantasy Challenge
Summary: Rileigh Martin would love to believe that adrenaline had given her the uncanny courage and strength to fend off three muggers. But it doesn’t explain her dreams of 15th-century Japan, the incredible fighting skills she suddenly possesses, or the strange voice giving her battle tips and danger warnings.
While worrying that she’s going crazy (always a reputation ruiner), Rileigh gets a visit from Kim, a handsome martial arts instructor, who tells Rileigh she’s harboring the spirit of a five-hundred-year-old samurai warrior.
Relentlessly attacked by ninjas, Rileigh has no choice but to master the katana—a deadly Japanese sword that’s also the key to her past. As the spirit grows stronger and her feelings for Kim intensify, Rileigh is torn between continuing as the girl she’s always been and embracing the warrior inside her.
KATANA, the first book in a new series from debut author Cole Gibsen, is fun to the max, guys. PURE. FUN. It’s one of those books that maybe sacrifices a little bit of depth in exchange for lots of adrenaline, action, intrigue, and unexplained flashbacks to a past life as a medieval Japanese samurai. What’s that? You’re not sure that the samurai angle is one of those, “oh, right. Samurai flashbacks. TYPICAL.” sort of things? Hmmm…. Maybe you’re right. The samurai business makes Cole Gibsen’s debut something pretty unique indeed, in a really fun, fresh way that I really enjoyed. When I found out that KATANA is just the first book in a series, I got VERY excited because, one, the ending TOTALLY implies more, and two, I was fascinated by and really invested in the Japanese warrior thing going on here.
One of the things that makes KATANA so enjoyable is, of course, the characters. ESPECIALLY Rileigh, the main character who’s got some major things thrown her way that she finds hard to deal with. I appreciated this a lot. She gradually finds out that the dreams she’s been having about medieval Japan and an attack on her shogun’s homestead that she and her lover, Yoshido, and the other samurai are trying to prevent are not so much DREAMS as much as they are memories of her past life. Rileigh hears this from Kim, resident hot Asian martial arts expert and reincarnated Yoshido, and basically says, “PSH. Y’all CRAZY.” How many times in books do people find out INSANELY unusual things about themselves and they only deny it for 5 minutes before they jump headfirst into jeopardy and the unknown? That doesn’t happen in KATANA, and I’m glad that Rileigh resists until there is really no way for her to deny the truth anymore. Although there were times when I thought, “what more evidence do you need, girl?” She resists HARD.
Rileigh is also one of many awesome characters in KATANA guys. She’s tough, self-reliant, sarcastic, loyal, and strong. She’s appropriately fearful of her new fighting abilities while not being too scared to try and figure out what’s going on for herself. But the other characters are great, too. Rileigh’s best friend, Quentin, is hilarious and loyal and honest. He’s SUPER FRIEND. And of course, there’s Kim. Oh, Kim. Guys, Kim is a fantastic love interest. He’s DEFINITELY the strong and silent type, which is why those little half-smiles and smirks are so satisfying. But he’s also protective, brave, intense, broody, and devoted. SAHWOON!
Seeing Rileigh and Kim interact was one of my favorite things about KATANA by Cole Gibsen. It’s clear early on that Kim and Yoshido are…fully integrated (I don’t want to explain the reincarnation stuff so much because it really makes more sense if you read it in context but this aspect had the potential to be confusing and New Agey, and it wasn’t. It was handled really well, I thought). Obviously, Rileigh and her samurai self, Seiko, are NOT. So to see Kim/Yoshido clearly in love with Rileigh/Seiko could have fallen into the insta-love trap. Thankfully, because Rileigh is so doubtful and resistant, and because Kim is so respectful and pretty much the opposite of creepy, their relationship doesn’t have that problem. It takes them awhile to kiss, though, which is both AWESOME and INFURIATING.
I should probably mention a little bit the ACTUAL conflict in KATANA, no? So basically, Kim and Rileigh and a couple other kids are reincarnated samurai who believe they have been reincarnated because a great evil from their past lives has returned to the world and only they can fight it. To be honest, this part was the weakest element in the story to me, but I think that’s mostly because it gets the least airtime. Most of this story deals with Rileigh coming to grips with who she is. The bad guy in KATANA wasn’t who I thought it would be, which was a great twist, but I’m hopeful that this aspect will get some more attention in Cole Gibsen’s future installments.
KATANA takes something that’s new to me–reincarnation, medieval Japan, samurai–and weaves all of these things and more into a really fast-paced, interesting, fun story. I loved the Japanese history and wished we got a little more of it, but I also loved Rileigh and Kim, and seeing them and their friends come together again made for some great action, tension, and general awesomeness. I can’t wait for more!