Series: Tales of the Otori Trilogy
Titles: Across the Nightingale Floor, Grass for His Pillow, Brilliance of the Moon
Author: Lian Hearn
In his black-walled fortress at Inuyama, the murderous warlord, Iida Sadamu, surveys his famous nightingale floor. Constructed with exquisite skill, it sings at the tread of each human foot. No assassin can cross it unheard. Brought up in a remote mountain village among the Hidden, a reclusive and spiritual people, Takeo has learned only the ways of peace. Why, then, does he possess the deadly skills that make him so valuable to the sinister Tribe? These supernatural powers will lead him to his violent destiny within the walls of Inuyama – and to an impossible love for a girl who can never be his… Set amid the savage blood feuds of medieval Japan, ‘Tales of the Otori’ is an epic saga of revenge and treachery, honour and loyalty, magic and unconquerable love.
Okay . . . Well, to begin with, overall I can’t say this was an entirely bad story. The characters were fairly solid and presentation vivid. Thinking on it, my biggest issues are abstract concepts. The culture of the Three Countries and its people are closely related to feudal Japan, and simply put: I just don’t like it. The lack of respect the people have for women (which is historically accurate for a lot of ancient (and not so ancient) cultures) and the inflexible adherence to a faulty code of nobility over commoner just rub me the wrong way. If you’re born poor, you’re somehow less of a human than if you’re born into an higher class. Justice and honor, as they really are, is skewed in favor of the higher class, vengeance is given far too much value, and bloodshed too little consequence.
On one side, it’s interesting, how these different beliefs influence the personalities and behavior of the people, and on the other side it’s remarkably frustrating. I felt for Kaede’s plight while in the clutches of Lord Fijiwara, particularly. I wanted to strangle that fink, and no two ways about it. The term ‘gentleman’ doesn’t exist here, no picturesque knights to be found ─ but that’s not really the aim of this game. Life isn’t always a pretty fantasy, and I dare say this trilogy fits into that category.
Takeo’s story throughout the trilogy is very much like a rollercoaster, getting pulled into so many conflicting directions. He was raised among the Hidden (a people who believe in the taboo secret god), taught that all men were created equal, that everyone met the same judgment after death, and that killing was wrong ─ vastly contrary concepts to the current system. He father was an assassin, a master of poisons, who renounced his clan for a life of peace, but the Kikuta of the Tribe wanted Takeo to join their clan again and use his inherent skills for death, teaching him violence and ruthlessness. These, along with his loyalty to his uncle and adoptive father Shigeru Otori, are the driving forces of the story. He is already set on taking the Otori lands back from his corrupt uncles, and then he receives a prophecy stating him as the one who will bring peace to the entire land, coast to coast, under his rule.
But jealousies, vendettas, and the power hungry are all determined to prevent that from happening. The path he walks is hard, unforgiving, and bloody, testing his faith and his fortitude. He falters and makes mistakes (like a real person), he gets some things wrong (also like a real person), but he nevertheless presses forward through the bleak and desperate times to accomplish what he believes to be right. He’s kind, but not wishy-washy, harsh at times, but not brutal or barbaric, and despite the fact that he associates with outcasts (pretty much the most vile thing around) people still flock to him for the promise his fight brings of freedom from oppression.
His genuine love and devotion to Kaede is also refreshing in its divergence from the cultural status quo, where a wife was generally for producing heirs and political alliances, and every other woman was for pleasure. The consideration he gave for her and the power and trust they shared was unprecedented, his fury at her ill treatment, his lengths to rescue her, and his unfaded love for her despite her scars is heartwarming.
But Takeo isn’t the only one who goes on a journey. Many, particularly from the Tribe, are confronted with the corrupt, cruel, and rigid ways of their clans, finding them no longer tolerable. The rule of ‘absolute obedience’ is tested in the face of wavering loyalties and bitter treachery. The Kikuta, the head family, are losing their humanity and becoming monsters, seeking Takeo’s death because he would not become one of them. Those of the Tribe who’ve come to love and respect Takeo, influenced by him and Kaede, begin to think that the ancient ways of their people are no longer acceptable.
Though being a single drop in a pool, his influence brings those around him to ripple with his movement, which spreads wide, instigating a lot of change in the Three Countries.
The ending of the story was well done, I was pleased with the tied up ends and happy reunions, along with the hint of more to come. The tale is ended but the story goes on. Those are the best kinds of endings, in my opinion. There is a sequel to this trilogy, as well as a prequel, but I’ll hold off reading them, because despite all good notes, the story didn’t engage me. I was never hungering to read more, never completely taken in. I had to force myself to read it, and I want to go back to that all-consuming kind of reading that made me fall in love with books in the first place.
A Green and Ancient Light, by Frederic S. Durbin. So far I’m really enjoying this one! It’s fun, magical, and easy to read.