The Last Warrior
by Kristen Kyle, historical (1999)
Bantam, $5.99, ISBN 0-553-57963-0
I picked up this book with mixed feelings. I so wanted to read this because it was set in the Japanese/Chinese colony of San Francisco. I'm happy to say I enjoy reading The Last Warrior. It is an exciting sword-and-excitement romantic saga, written in just the right color and atmosphere.
Captain Jake Talbert is a samurai, a disgraced samurai who lost in battle his adopted family's heirlooms - five longswords or katana of priceless value. Rather than committing voluntary suicide he goes around searching for the lost swords. Here I am puzzled; a dishonored man in ancient Japan who does not commit hara-kiri even after his honor is gone has no hope of redeeming himself in his family's eyes - Jake should know this. Anyway, the swords fall into the hands of Meghan McLowry, fiery Irish-American daughter of a trade baron who is involved in a rescue mission of Chinese prostitutes in her free time. Meghan strikes a hard bargain with Jake: her father is being threatened by a powerful Chinese Tong leader (that's like a Mafia boss) whom he cheated, and if Jake could protect her father, the swords would be his. Hence begins a breathless adventure that involves exciting dangers, sword fights, and everything one can expect in a romantic adventure set in a rather exotic setting. Ms Kyle has definitely studied the Chinese and Japanese culture well, and it shows: the story has a very authentic feel to it, unlike many ersatz "Oriental novels" where it seems the only authentic thing about Japan is the correct spelling of Tokyo.
I have one small complaint though: the Big Misunderstanding-like thing that wedged a separation between Jake and Meg... that seems forced. It's not really necessary to the story, is it? Indeed, it only jarred me from my reading, making me go Huh? How did that get here? and ruining a little of my exciting read. Oh, and I'm puzzled Jake could travel to Malaysia in the late 1800s, for the concept of Malaysia was conceived only in 1957 and Malaysia was formed only in 1963. In 1800s, there was only Malaya, or Tanah Melayu (Malay Land) to the natives. Sorry to play History teacher, but as a Malaysian, I find that very distracting!
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