(Review) KATANA by Cole Gibsen

A Backwards Story is happy to be a part of The {Teen} Book Scene's tour for KATANA!  Check out the tour schedule to see the list of events. Be sure to check out my recent interview with author Cole Gibsen as part of the tour!

Author: Cole Gibsen
Release Date: Out now (March 08, 2011)
Publisher: Flux/Llewellyn
Received: Review copy courtesy of Flux


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.

While KATANA didn't completely live up to my expectations, it was still an enjoyable read.  An action-packed novel with a supernatural twist that involves reincarnated samurai, KATANA has been compared to KILL BILL and BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER.  I've never seen KILL BILL (Too gorey for me), but I loved BUFFY and can definitely see similarities there. 

Rileigh Martin didn't know her life was about to change when she went shopping with her best friend Quentin.  After leaving for the night, she accidentally trips a mugger and botches his purse-stealing attempt.  He shows up again as she approaches her car and attack her with his friends.  Rileigh starts hearing a voice in her head and suddenly knows how to fight, taking them all down and making the news.  At the hospital, she's approached by a dojo owner, Kim, and told he can answer questions about what's been happening to her.  Dangerous people are beginning to realize that she's been reincarnated and will stop at nothing to eliminate her before Rileigh can develop her newfound skills and become a threat.  Rileigh doesn't want to accept the fact that she's been reincarnated and is afraid that if she opens up her mind to the memories of the past, she'll lose herself as she is in the present.  As her life goes more dangerous and out of control, she discovers that there might be truth to what the other reincarnated samurai are telling her, but she's not positive embracing her past will allow her to change her future.  If she doesn't figure out what she wants--and fast--she's as good as dead, and so are the other samurai.

At first, I had trouble getting into KATANA, but as Rileigh grew as a character, I really embraced her and found myself curious about her plight.  Why were the Noppera-bō, or "faceless ghosts," after the reincarnated spirits, and why did they want Rileigh so badly?  I also love the way Gibsen developed Kim and incorporated him into the story. I liked all of his interactions with Rileigh and thought he felt more real than Rileigh's seemingly-perfect crush, transfer student Whitley.  Kim is such a scene-stealer; I was excited every time he was on a page and he quickly became my favorite aspect of the novel.  While some readers don't like when books flip between the past and present, for KATANA, I thought it was necessary to see the events that led to the downfall of the samurai and understand everyone's motivation, so I was glad to see Gibsen slip them into unobtrusive in-between chapters. 

While I overall liked the story, there were a couple of small things that bothered me.  At first, I struggled with the fact that only one of the five reincarnated samurai was currently being harbored in a Japanese body.  Why did all of the other souls go into Western bodies rather than Eastern ones? Once Gibsen introduced us to the fact that one of the samurai was once the opposite gender and that familial relationships had altered, I thought about the way Jodi Meadows handled reincarnation with her amazing novel INCARNATE and the way souls left and re-entered the bodies and suddenly, I found myself more at peace with the world Gibsen was presenting to me and could focus on other things.  I'm still not sure what I think about the fact that Rileigh was an amazing female samurai that never disguised herself as a man (Come on, even Mulan did!), though I'm hoping this element is expanded upon in the second book because female samurai were rare and surely she struggled in her time as Senshi.  I also admit that I goggled the meaning of a baby girl named Senshi because I'm so used to hearing that term in reference to the Japanese word for soldier (Thank you, SAILOR MOON), but after seeing the meaning, I appreciate the way Gibsen uses it much more than I did when I thought she was using it literally.

While KATANA isn't perfect, it is a fun, fast read for anyone who likes books with martial arts, Asian influences, and/or engaging, action-packed plots.  The novel doesn't have a cliffhanger ending, though it does leave enough leeway for a second book.  KATANA may not have started out strongly, but Gibsen's writing evolves as readers continue on and becomes more developed and intense as the story progresses.  Plus, it's always nice to see a book where a female can kick some serious ass just as well as--if not better than--a male!


This cover really captures the spirit of Japan!  I love the way Adrienne Zimiga incorporated traditional elements that bring one's mind to the country such as cherry blossoms and the kanji character for "katana" (刀), a traditional Japanese samurai sword. 

I also like the way the book's title, KATANA, is slashed through as though an actual katana cut it up.  I think it's fun that the title's coloring reflects the color of the model's t-shirt.  The fact that the model is wearing a t-shirt and jeans rather than something traditional showcases the way KATANA takes place in today's world. 

The one major thing I don't like about the cover is the way the model is holding two katana blades.  The katana is a two-handed sword and if Rileigh is the reincarnation of the super-samurai she's portrayed to be, she'd never handle two at one time because she'd quickly be cut down on the battlefield.  Then again, the movies often feature warriors wielding two blades at once, too, and while not practical, I guess it's become mroe mainstream because it looks cooler. *shrug*

Overall, the cover (and title) of this book are what initially drew me to it.  Having lived in Japan for two years, I'm all over anything Japanese!


  1. This sounds like an interesting book! I will tell you, I'm so not a gore fan (it makes me sick) but KILL BILL is so comically gory that I love those movies.

    I may have to give this book a read one of these days!

    Jenny at Books to the Sky

    1. It makes me sick, too! That's why I'm 97% sure I can't watch THE HUNGER GAMES. Unless I can maybe get ahold of the cleaned-up UK edition when the DVD comes out, lol!

      There were a couple of gross scenes in KATANA for people like us, but it was easy to skip past and not on every page!

  2. A YA Kill Bill sounds great and not like anything I've read so far, which is always a plus. Glad you enjoyed it more as the story developed.

    Safari Poet

    1. It definitely got better as the story went deeper! It definitely has a unique concept, which drew me in as well.

  3. Sounds intriguing, especially if it's comparable to Kill Bill and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I've been looking for some action packed reading. THanks for sharing this.

    1. This will be right up your alley, then! It's definitely action-packed. It made me want to read other action books, so I blew through the two books by Sarah Alderson this week! They're good for that, too!


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