on 25 March 2004
I have always enjoyed fantasy novels, but long ago got thoroughly sick of the d&d mages and mercenaries, evil-dark-lord-of-the-north-taking-over-the-world-with-an-army-of-trolls. This is the sort of fantasy book that grabs my attention now, and it really did grab it by the throat.
As you'll have realised, it is set in Japan, and I think that it must some time in the early modern period as the 'hidden' people amongst whom the main character, Takeo, grew up sound remarkably like Japanese Christians. It has all the clichés, two lovers torn apart by war, etc, etc, but it is far from a cliché. Takeo is far from 'flat' as I've seen one reviewer describe him, he is an enormously complex character dragged this way and that by his upbringing amongst the Hidden, his powers and ties to the 'Tribe', his inheritance from the Otori and his love of Kaede. His struggles to resolve all of these different currents will take far more than one book, and having read the second (Grass for his pillow), will take more than two. If you are looking for a beautifully written historical novel with breathtaking characterisation and some magic thrown in (and let's face it, who isn't!) then this book (along with the other two in the series) will be just your cup of tea.
on 17 December 2002
A beautifully crafted work. I bought this book as a gift for my teenage son but had to read it first. The writing is spare and elegant and the landscape descriptions are luminous. The two central love stories are treated with compassion and restraint.
I am really looking forward to the next books in the trilogy.I don't read much fantasy fiction but this must surely be the best writing in this genre since Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea Quartet.
Highly reccomended for all readers aged twelve and upwards.
on 18 August 2004
This book had me from the minute I picked it up. From the very first pages you feel like you have known Takeo (or Tomasu) all your life and you sympathise with him, and being a quite emotional person, I even cried, and at first you are wary of his rescuer.
All the way through the book you are introduced to new characters and Lian Hearn has an astonishing way of familiarising you with even the most arrogant and selfish people (Iida).
The idea of love at first sight between the two characters (who I will leave unnamed) was dangerous and forbidden and you were anxious to know what would happen, how they would do it!
This is a book I would recommend to anyone of any age from 13+, it explores the beatiful and graceful nature of Japan, and the wars that happen in between the more intricate storylines cannot be credited enough!
An amazing read!!!
I start to read the second book today, Grass for his Pillow, and no doubt I will be hooked once more.
I was struck by the amazing style of this book, it is very well-written and really does feel Japanese. The world created is very interesting - I am interested now in nightingale floors, and glad to learn there are some real examples and they aren't just the author's invention. However, I was a bit disappointed by the characterization. The main character of this book is Takeo, who narrates chapters in first person. The other chapters are narrated in third person about the second main character, Kaede. Both these characters felt slightly flat to me - I couldn't really identify with them, and I felt especially that we could have learnt about Takeo in more depth, as first person narration usually allows. The warlord characters (Lord Shigeru and Iida Sadamu) were divided neatly into good and evil, and I felt I would have liked a bit more depth here as well.
Although I enjoyed this book, and thought the descriptions and the mood it created was excellent, I was also a little disappointed with the final resolution of the plot. After all the build-up (and the title of the book!) about Takeo crossing the nightingale floor, you'd think they'd describe it in more detail, and make it have some point. The characters of the Tribe also annoyed me. Overall this is a good read, but not a book I will remember that long.
on 5 May 2004
I totally LOVED this book. I found it even more exciting than Northern Lights, and it reminded me of the film Crouching Tiger. It is set in an ancient oriental land run by violent clans and a powerful and sinister organisation called the Tribe. Takeo (the hero) finds himself torn between his loyalty to the Otori clan, The Tribe, and the Hidden - the persecuted community he was born into. Then he falls in love with the beautiful Kaede... It's SUCH an exciting book, and the best thing is, it's the first part of a trilogy, so there are two more books to read! I've already started the second book (Grass for His Pillow).
on 8 December 2005
This is the first in a series of Otori books and I mistakenly believed this was a complete book. It isn’t, it is only a sample from the first full book ‘Across the Nightingale Floor’. A good place to start if you don’t want to commit to buying the whole novel but given the price difference I’m not sure I see the point of buying the sample (the full book definitely earns 5 stars) .
Overall the Otori books are excellent, entertaining and touching, evocative of distant lands and accessible to all readers.
I heartily recommend them.
on 4 June 2013
It started off very well - the language was thoughtful and the descriptions were beautiful. The writing is very pretty, very vivid, and I felt the characters were quite realistic according to what Japanese people are like - it was true to the Japanese's sense of honour, death, sacrifice, loyalty etc. The dialogue reflects this well too, as much of the ideas are actually between the lines and left unsaid, which is how Japanese people really are, since they are often polite and speak in such a way that avoids losing face, as well as avoid humiliating another. I also liked it that how the mission was resolved was unconventional - I won't put spoilers here as it's near the end, but I thought it was done well.
However, having said all of that, I was ultimately disappointed. The book was not a page-turner - it was good enough to keep me going, but I did not feel gripped. I was often left yearning for more emotion, more expression, and the subdued nature of the characters is reflected in the plot, the writing and also the pace of the entire book - the events are passionate and the characters are passionate and yet somehow everything was so subdued that it was frustrating, the characters left so much a puppet in the grand scheme of things, so trapped in their situation while they "happily" keep going, that it often felt like they were not doing anything at all. I agree with another reviewer I read on Amazon - the book is lacking in emotions. I did not genuinely care for any of the characters other than Shigeru.
However, it was really towards the end that the book had let me down. The ending felt so rushed, it felt like suddenly everything had happened to everyone, without much explanation at all, and worse still, everything happens at a distance. By the time you return to the story for the final climax, all the actually exciting stuff had already happened, and you're in the aftermath only. The ending was contrived at best. It was forced, unnatural, and frustrating because what happened to ruin Takeo's mission needn't have happened - and if it needed to happen, then it should've happened a long time before that point. As it is, the author used it as a convenient device because there's no other way for her to get to the ending that she wanted. So I feel cheated because I can see the author's hand in it - it's not the way the story was going, and then because of this convenient event, everything else and everyone else is devastated, forcing an unjustified tragedy on the book, snatching victory out of the hands of characters you've been egging on for absolutely no reason at all. It's one of those "What!? What did you just do, dear author!?" moments.
I'm not sure I'd bother with the next two books. I can forgive the book for being slow and subdued, but that ending - what a mess.
When a little boy's family is murdered in a horrible raid, an Otori lord saves his life and gives him a new name, Takeo. For Takeo's family was of the Hidden, a tribe which has been persecuted throughout their country, and Shigeru knows that Takeo's identity will get him killed. As the story unfolds, Takeo realizes that he has somewhat extraordinary skills; he can hear unnaturally well, be in two places at once, and even draw better than a normal person. He is a born assassin and he is determined to wreak revenge on the man who killed his family. Meanwhile, Kaede is a helpless prisoner, forced into a marriage agreement with Shigeru after years of deprivation and unhappiness. Her marriage offers hope until Kaede realizes just what she's getting into.
This YA fantasy was a total change of pace. It's set in a fictional feudal Japan, a beautiful setting that evokes a much different feel than most fantasy set in fiction medieval Europe. It helps that the writing is beautiful; I would quote but unfortunately I had to return the book to the library, so you'll have to take my word for it. The words of love spoken between the characters, especially Shigeru and his love, were heartbreaking and touching. Even the title, Across the Nightingale Floor, refers to a floor that most of us would refer to as just creaky, designed to alert the occupant to intruders. This is the real name for these floors, but it is still far more beautiful than using just plain English. The book has not only ninjas and samurais and swords, but a feel of history and scope that I loved. Since Kaede and Takeo are from different locations and both travel, we get a feel for this world that is quite breathtaking.
As far as characters are concerned, I liked these, although I do feel we could have gotten to know them a little better. They all have a massive sense of honor and it was fascinating to see how their personal thoughts played out against their real world actions. This is such a polite world even as many of the characters sneak behind each other's backs and murder one another. If one's honor is impugned, he or she decides to die. It's a foreign world view but extremely well played; it doesn't feel melodramatic, it fits. The special magical skills that Takeo had fit, too, especially given that he's a scion of a special tribe with many of these skills themselves.
Across the Nightingale Floor was a wonderful read. It's a different kind of fantasy than I normally prefer but I loved it. I could have done with feeling a bit more emotion towards the characters, but I'm hoping that will come as I continue the series.
The first in a series set in an imaginary world based on feudal Japan and the chivalric Bushido code of conduct. It successfully takes you into that world of honor and loyalty, mastery of martial arts, married with simple living and appreciation of nature and art. Well -that's how the good guys aim to act - but at heart they are all warriors.
The three nations that make up this land are at war and Lord Iida wants it all. He lives in fear of being assassinated though, the nightingale floor of his palace sings - no assassin could cross it without being heard. So he schemes and plans on how to trap the Otori clan into alliance, using the kidnapped daughter of another subdued Lord as bait. Iida is also systematically trying to wipe out the Hidden, a psuedo-Christian sect that live in secrecy. At the start of the novel young Tomasu is the only survivor of a massacre of Hidden and is rescued by Lord Otori Shigeru before Iida can kill him too. Shigeru recognises something in the boy and decides to adopt him, and thus begins a life of adventure, romance and very hard work for the boy, rechristened Takeo. Unbeknown to him, another secret sect known as The Tribe, a sort of ninja assassin guild, also seek need him for their plans.
Hearn has produced a remarkably well realised world. Shigeru, in particular is a potent force for good, he was my favourite character by far. Takeo, whose life and career will develop in the subsequent volumes in this series, starts off as an empty shell, to be formed, like Kung-Fu's Grasshopper, into the warrior and more that is inside him. We are also introduced to young Lady Kaede, the hostage who is to be married to Shigeru, but predictably falls for Takeo. All are well fleshed out characters. Iida and his henchmen though are rather stereotypical baddies and sketchily drawn.
The novel is full of action, but takes its time. In between these scenes, there is much philosophy, talk of politics, and time for romance too. Also, Takeo, our grasshopper, has to learn many new skills and go on a voyage of self-discovery that leaves you at the end, desperate for more. Volumes two and three immediately go onto my wish list - Highly recommended.
on 8 June 2007
A few weeks ago i had never even heard of Lian Hearn. After a friend told me about the book i couldn't wait to begin reading it. And believe me when i say this, this author, this book is one in a million, the elgeance of the writing grasps you and urges you to continue. This is the type of book that you don't want to put down, u don't want to finish but crave for more. After reading this book i bought the complete set and am reaping the literary rewards. I also urge you to buy this book. There is no doubt about it, this book is a masterpiece. I really cant find anything bad to say about this book, other than you will get very tired from staying up so late to read it!!
Enjoy just like i have!