Across the Nightingale Floor
Across the Nightingale Floor is the first of a five part series named “Tales of the Otori”. The first three volumes include Grass for His Pillow and Brilliance of the Moon and can be read as a trilogy without needing to read the the final two volumes. The Otori are a clan based in a fictional version of medieval Japan. This is a time of warring tribal Lords with armies of skilled, sword carrying warriors hell bent on gaining power over the other clans. The story follows the viewpoints of Takeo and Kaede in alternating chapters. They are both teenagers experiencing the harsh realities of this brutal society and are both cut free from their normal safe lives through circumstances beyond their control to forge a life without a parental guide.
Takeo is adopted by Lord Shigero after his village is massacred by a rival clan. Takeo’s village were populated by a group of people known as the Hidden. They practised a religious way of life where they are forbidden to kill and taught to forgive no matter what wrong doing they have endured. Lord Iida, one of the powerful warlords, is offended (or worried) by their devotion to the One God who sees everyone as equal including the Lords who rule the kingdom. This is a threat to the status quo and must be wiped out.
Kaede is a political hostage in Lord Noguchi’s court but when she comes of age she is promised to Lord Otori Shigeru to forge an alliance between the clans. Kaede is fifteen and trying to figure this cruel world out and bemoans the bad hand that women are dealt when promised to men they have never met. The proposed wedding is thought to be a trap and the story builds up to the the wedding day with a sense of foreboding.
Takeo and Kaede’s stories come together when they fall in love in a classic coming of age story. They capture glimpses of each other after a chance meeting but are unable to speak without becoming tongue tied or red faced. All the while Takeo is learning about his ancestral heritage and the magical powers he has acquired through the father he never knew. His father was a member of the Kikuta clan and a member of the secretive Tribe. Takeo’s young nature can be seen from his petulant acts and reluctance to conform to his masters rules. He is forever findings ways to break the rules, sometimes just to see if he can.
The powers he inherits includes becoming a master of hearing, invisibility, climbing and moving silently but he lacks the ruthlessness of a warrior assassin due to his upbringing in the Hidden. Kenji, the master who takes it upon himself to train Takeo is often exasperated. He puts it well after Takeo conducts a particularly risky and difficult act to help four hapless victims of a castle baron. “It’s that softness he has,” Kenji said. “It drives him to act from compassion, even when he kills”.
Lian Hearn is actually the pen name of Gillian Rubinstein, an Australian author. She has spoken in interviews that the two teenage protagonists reflect her own childhood where she was away from her parents in boarding school. She later spent time in Japan, immersing herself in the culture in order to write the stories. The author takes an interesting approach by writing Takeo’s chapters being in the first person and Kaede’s in the third person. This means you experience these two protagonists in different ways.
Read this is if you enjoy stories about sword fighting, assassins, and political manoeuvrings or maybe just Japanese medieval society.
Year Published: 2002
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