Author: Cole Gibsen
Reading Level: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Urban Fantasy, Romance
Theme: Martial Arts, Romance, Reincarnation
Binding: (NetGalley ebook ARC)
Published: Flux; 8 March 2012
Synopsis: 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.
My Review: Katana was an absolute pleasure to read. It was one of those books that didn't require a lot of hard thinking, yet has all the elements of a great YA novel. That is NOT an insult. Let me explain. Before Katana, I had read 2 books back to back that were quite demanding. Both had stories centered around new mythology and world building. While I absolutely love books that are unique and don't fit a particular mold, those qualities do not neccessarily define what makes a good novel. Katana was a refreshing read, filled with action, romance, history, and perfectly placed comic relief.
The story opens with Rileigh and her out and proud best friend Quentin leaving the mall after buying a gift for a wedding. A thug tries robbing an old couple in the parking lot and without her even realizing it, Rileigh comes to their rescue. When the thug comes back for a second round, this time to teach her a lesson, Rileigh thinks she is going crazy when she hears a voice in her head and her body busts out martial arts moves that are completely foriegn to her. Thus starts Rileigh's "Awakening", where pieces of her past life starts to collide with her present. Talk about a great way to start a story! I absolutely love a book that grabs you from the very first couple of pages!
As Rileigh tries to figure out if she is losing her mind or not, the mysterious, sexy martial arts instructor Kim enters her life, which only confuses her more since he seems to know more about what's going on inside her mind and body them she cares to admit. She tries to convince herself that Whitley is the boy of her dreams, but has a hard time denying the instant attraction and pull she feels when around Kim. Sounds like one of those annoying love triangles that many YA writers can't seem to do without, right? Well, I think what makes Katana different is that Whitley is really no competition when he is up against the kind of love that lasts for centuries, literally!
While the setting is in present day America, Cole Gibsen does a great job bringing us back to 13th century Japan every few chapters so that we can see how Rileigh and Kim's previous lives intertwine with their lives now. I don't want to get into too much detail here for fear of leaking too many spoilers, but let's just say Cole knows how to pull on the heartstrings and once you read the book, you will understand what I mean about the kind of love that stands the test of time.
I like the fact that this is also sort of an interracial romance. I know that may sound weird, but I am bi-racial-- half Italian, half African American and I have noticed that there are not many young adult books out there where the heroine is white and the hero is of Asian descent. I know that's not what this book's agenda is about (or is it? love doesn't know color, gender and happens when you least expect it) but I like that angle of the book.
Cole Gibsen not only writes a great story but creates interesting characters. I enjoyed learning about Drew, Michelle, and Braden who were also samurai warriors in their previous lives. And in case you are wondering how it can be possible that the spirits of these young people were able to find each other in this life when they could have been anywhere in the world--apparently, the stronger the connection in their previous life, the easier it is for their spirits to find each other in this one.
If I had one thing to complain about-- and this is me just being straight up picky-- it's the whole Sumi situation. Sumi is Kim's receptionist/assistant at the dojo who fathoms herself in love with him. Throughout the novel Sumi makes it abundantly clear that Kim is hers and that they are "meant" to be together. There are quite a few scenes where her jealousy shines through, one in particular towards the end where she sort of threatens Rileigh. Then suddenly Sumi is never mentioned again. I'm not sure if Katana is the first in a planned series-- if so, then maybe we will see her in the next book. It's not that big of a deal, but the last scene with Sumi and Rileigh felt....unfinished.
But that minor complaint doesn't change my 5 star rating :). There is really nothing else negative I can say about Katana. It's a solid YA novel packed with action, laugh-out-loud moments, and a romance worth dying for! If you don't believe me, then let me end this review with a scene that shows how much Kim loves Rileigh.
"Kim? Why are you afraid to touch me?" I asked.
He rotated back...for a moment I thought he would leave without answering my question. Instead, he pushed his shoulders back and reeled around to face me, closing the distance between us in two strides, leaving only enough room to breathe.
"I'm afraid," he whispered.
"Of what?" I whispered back. I was afraid myself, but I couldn't think of why I should be.
"I'm afraid that if I touch you, even for a moment, I might not be able to let go."
Before I could react, he turned and strode out of the room.
Romantic, right? Well then what are you waiting for? Go pick up a copy of Katana today! Kill Bill meets Buffy? How about, Kill Bill meets Buffy who meets Samurai Girl? lol