Samurai Girl: The Book of the Sword

Samurai Girl 1

Author: Carrie Asai

Publication: Simon Pulse, 2003

Pages: 224

Overall Rating:  bth_45_zps06f87659[1]                      

Rating for Action: bth_25_zps13f4f4eb[1]

Quantity of Action: bth_2-star-rating-1_zps4cdc0d23[1] 

Age Category: 13+

Brief Summary: When Heaven Kogo was a baby she survived a fiery plane crash that killed her parents and was adopted by the wealthy Kogo family of Japan.  Flash forward 19 years.  Heaven is now being forced to marry a sleazy guy who is the son of one of her dad’s business rivals.  Without warning, a black clad ninja bursts into the wedding ceremony wielding a sword and sets his sights on Heaven.  Her dad stands by and watches.  The only person to interfere is her brother – the only one in her family she’s ever truly loved or trusted.  As her father and his bodyguards look on, Heaven’s brother is brutally murdered by the ninja.  Heaven flees for her life, running through the streets of Los Angeles in a wedding gown.

Her brother’s dying instruction was to find his friend, Hiro.  But will Hiro take her in?  Will Heaven ever discover why her father didn’t try to stop the ninja?  And most of important of all, will she have the strength, courage, and conviction to become Samurai Girl?

Age of Main Character: 19

What I Liked the Most: I liked Heaven’s character.  Asai has given her a great voice that really makes her come alive on the page.  And there are so many unusual things about Heaven that she makes a very different sort of heroine.  She’s grown up incredibly sheltered, rarely allowed outside of her father’s palatial estate, and has had few friends and few opportunities to make decisions for herself.  And now she finds herself living on the streets of L.A., having to fight to survive.  It adds an extra layer of challenge to the situation.  But I also like the twist that she was raised in a samurai family, and over the course of the novel she begins to realize that underneath all her uncertainty and inexperience lies the soul of a true samurai.

Because Heaven has led such a sheltered life, there are many things that she experiences for the first time over the course of the novel – things that most of us take for granted.  For example, ordering her first taco at a Mexican restaurant, going to her first party, sweeping the floor.  Asai does a great job handling these scenes, expressing Heaven’s wonder at everything the world has to offer, and her own growing confidence in herself.

What I Liked the Least: Hiro is extremely judgmental, often reacting very harshly when Heaven falters in her training, misses her former luxuries, or expresses uncertainty about her decision to break off contact with her father.  Asai drops a few hints about the reasons for Hiro’s behavior, but I didn’t feel like it was ever properly explained.  His reactions often felt out of all proportion to what Heaven had done and I wanted to know more about what was going on in Hiro’s head.

There’s also a scene in which Hiro takes off without explanation to spend the night elsewhere.  We later discover that Hiro regrets not having told Heaven where he was going, but we never learn where he went.  That felt like something that should have come out eventually – unless it’s a secret Asai is holding in reserve for book 2.

How Good was the Action?  Action is not the focus of this book.  The book is really about Heaven’s escape from her father, her search for the truth about what happened, and most of all, her discovery of her own inner strength.  A lot of the novel focuses on her fears about being caught, her training to be a samurai, her relationship with Hiro, and coming to terms with a life outside the estate she grew up on.

There are a few fight scenes and one chase, but even in those scenes the focus is really on how Heaven reacts to what’s taking place around her.  The fights and the chase are not described in blow-by-blow detail.  They’re summarized.  So what we really see is how Heaven reacts to the fight between her brother and the ninja, how her perception of Hiro changes when he saves her, etc.  The closest we get to a blow-by-blow is when Heaven fights the ninja herself, but even then the focus is more on her fear and then the sudden shift she has from fear to acceptance of her fate.

All that said the scenes are actually quite tense and well done.  Just don’t go into the book expecting rip-roaring sword fights and martial arts extravaganzas.

How Engaging was the Story?   I was drawn into Heaven’s character from the first page.  Her voice was so well done, and her character so intriguing, that I found the book almost impossible to put down.  I was especially drawn to the relationship between Heaven and her father, Konishi.  Over the course of the book Heaven struggles between her disgust over what she’s sees as her father’s betrayal, her excitement over the new and independent life she’s leading, and her desire to be loved, pampered, and protected by Konishi.  The interplay between those feelings makes for a fascinating story.

Overall Assessment: This is a great book.  Don’t go into it expecting non-stop samurai action, but if you’re looking for a story with a great voice, plenty of emotion, a torturous search for self, some romance, and a bit of action on the side then this a great read.

Profanity: Yes.  Not extensive, but it’s definitely there.

Sex: Yes.  Heaven doesn’t actually have sex, but she certainly fantasizes about it a lot – not in graphic detail, more in the sense of fantasizing about a good kiss, about being close and intimate with someone else, noticing when he’s close to her.

Violence: Yes.  There’s not a lot of violence, but the incidents that do occur are relatively graphic.  There is blood.  People do get stabbed and slashed with a sword and some of them die.  A couple of people get beaten bloody.

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