Lian Hearn,
Across the Nightingale Floor:
Tales of the Otori, Book I

(Riverhead, 2002)

Lian Hearn has a winner in Across the Nightingale Floor: Tales of the Otori, Book I. Set in an ancient feudal time resembling that of Japan, this breathtaking novel weaves a reluctantly relinquished spell over the reader.

Young Tomasu is one of the Hidden who practice their gentile, nonviolent but forbidden faith in secret. His passion for wandering the mountain saves his life when the soldiers of the powerful and ruthless Lord Iida destroy his village and murder the inhabitants. He is discovered and pursued, and his life is saved once more by a stranger who steps out of the shadows: Lord Otori Shigeru. Lord Otori gives Tomasu a new name, Takeo, and brings the boy to his home with the intention of adopting Takeo as his heir.

Takeo's story interweaves with that of Kaede, daughter of a noble family who has lived as a hostage in the castle of another lord since she was 7 years old. Now 15, she is to be married to Lord Otori to seal an alliance. Frightened and angry at her lot, she travels reluctantly to meet what she feels is her doom.

In the course of time, Takeo learns secrets about himself, his history and background. He also knows the role he is destined to fulfill and works toward that goal with single-minded determination.

Hearn's writing is meticulous and lucid, clearly depicting the warrior clan society and the complex social rules. The descriptive language is rich without being overwritten, and Hearn captures the emotions of the characters while remaining true to the tone of the narrative. Plot and characterizations mesh together seamlessly, engulfing the reader in a tangible world.

Hearn writes with passion yet is uncompromisingly restrained. There are no deus ex machina rescues, no contrived plot twists simply for the sake of a cheap resolution. Rather, Hearn writes the truth as she sees it, regardless of the consequences for the characters.

Across the Nightingale Floor is exquisite, one of those novels you hate to see end, but if there is a Book One, that promises a Book Two to follow, to which I look forward already.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]
Rambles: 18 August 2002

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