Lian Hearn – Across the Nightingale Floor
59. Across the Nightingale Floor by Lian Hearn (2002)
Tales of the Otori, Book 1
Read By: Kevin Gray and Aiko Nakasone
Length: 8h 25m (305 pages)
Genre: Young Adult, Historical Fantasy
Started: 04 May 2010
Finished: 27 May 2010
Where did it come from? Borrowed from a friend.
Why do I have it? She’d read it and really liked it.
Getting vengeance for
your family: much easier
when you’re a ninja.
Summary: Tomasu never thought he was anything more than boy living with his mother and stepfather in a small mountain village. When a fierce warlord on a campaign of religious persecution attacks Tomasu’s village and kills everyone in it, he barely escapes with his life. He is found and protected in the forest by Lord Otori Shigeru, who changes Tomasu’s name to Takeo and takes him in as a ward. Takeo has sworn vengeance on the man who killed his family, and the Otori have their own score to settle with the men of the Tohan clan. As Takeo travels with Lord Otori, he learns that he is no mere village boy; instead, he is a member of the Tribe, a group of spies and assassins with preternatural powers. Takeo is being pulled in all directions by his unique heritage: raised in a pacifist religious sect, trained by a warrior, and by blood a gifted and deadly assassin. However, when an arranged wedding for Lord Otori allows Takeo the opportunity to get close to the lord of the Tohan, he will need all three parts of his nature if justice is to be done.
Review: This book is fantasy in the same way that Guy Gavriel Kay’s books are fantasy: they’re set in countries that don’t actually exist, and the events within them didn’t actually take place, but they’re clearly based on actual historical places and cultures. Across the Nightingale Floor is indistinguishable from feudal Japan, except for the names being changed. While I understand that this conceit gives the author more freedom to play around with their story without having to stick to actual history, I think that the “fantasy” label might deter some historical fiction fans who would otherwise really enjoy it, and might confuse some fantasy fans who can’t figure out where the fantastical comes in. Because there’s very little fantasy in this book, and not even much that I’d call magical realism. If you can accept the fact that there are ninjas with some magical seeming powers (very acute hearing, the ability to appear to be two places at once), then it is otherwise straight-up historical fiction.
This book was recommended to me by a friend who’s a serious Japanophile, and I think it showed in our relative enjoyment of the book. While I’m certainly not opposed to reading about Japan and Japanese culture, neither do I have any particular draw towards it, so while the worldbuilding was effectively done, it just didn’t have the same level of inherent interest for me that it might for some. I felt the same about the characters and the story: both of them were well done, both interesting enough to keep me reading, but neither was enough to really wow me. The writing was lovely, and very good at conveying the seriousness of the drama without getting overblown, but plot itself never really surprised me, at least not until the very end… and then it wasn’t a particularly satisfying surprise. It did intrigue me enough to make me want to check out the sequels, since quite a bit was left unresolved; hopefully I’ll find something in the next book to really get excited about. 3.5 out of 5 stars.
Recommendation: In the epic cosmic battle of pirates vs. ninjas, my preference has always been with the boys on boats. Teens and adults of both sexes who put their money on the ninjas instead will probably enjoy this book.
First Line: My mother used to threaten to tear me into eight pieces if I knocked over the water bucket, or pretended not to hear her calling me to come home as the dusk thickened and the cicadas’ shrilling increased.