Wednesday, April 18, 2012
Across the Nightingale Floor by Lian Hearn
Lian Hearn's Across the Nightingale Floor is one book in the list that I have read. I read it when it first came out, although I hadn't read it since.
Since it's publication in 2002 it's become a bit of a minor classic in the home of it's author; Australia. It's particularly popular amongst young adults, and this isn't all that surprising as prior to putting out Across the Nightingale Floor Lian Hearn was best known as a children's author.
It's a lovely lyrical tale, as much love story as revenge story. Although Lian Hearn says that it is not set in Japan it is very clearly based on Japanese culture, and I have seen one review that even managed to find events in Japanese history that correlated roughly with the story in the book.
The story of Takeo, a young boy raised by a clan known only as the Hidden, who survives a massacre, is adopted by one of the Otori lords and trained as a mystical ninja assassin by his unknown father's family; the Tribe, forms the bulk of the book. The other two major sections are Takeo seeking revenge on the powerful lord who massacred the Hidden village, and forever altered his life. The final section is the story of Kaede, the beautiful young noblewoman who Takeo falls in love with.
One interesting thing about the book is the style in which Lian Hearn chose to write it. Takeo's sections of the story are told in first person, but when the story focusses on Kaede it switches to third person. The only other books I can remember doing this so seamlessly are Jonathan Stroud's marvelous Bartimaeus series.
At the time there weren't many Asian flavoured fantasies. The closest I can think of is the Raymond E Feist's Empire trilogy, co written with Janny Wurts. The culture of Kelewan is very closely based on that of feudal Japan, as is Across the Nightingale Floor. Lian Hearn did put out 4 sequels to the book, together they're known as the Otori Cycle. I did read two more of them, but they weren't able to capture the magic of the first book and I gave the series up. It's self contained enough to be enjoyed without needing to read on.