Title: Across the Nightingale Floor
Series: Tales of the Otori, Book One
Author: Lian Hearn
My rating: 2 of 5
In the black-walled fortress at Inuyama, the 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.
The youth Takeo has been brought up in a remote mountain village among the Hidden, a reclusive and spiritual people who have taught him only the ways of peace. But unbeknownst to hi him, his father was a celebrated assassin and a member of the Tribe, an ancient network of families with extraordinary, preternatural sills. When Takeo’s village is pillaged, he is rescued and adopted by the mysterious Lord Otori Shigeru. Under the tutelage of Shigeru, he learns that he, too, possesses the skills of the Tribe, and with this knowledge he embarks on a journey that will lead him across the nightingale floor and to his destiny within the walls of Inuyama.
Overcome the intensity of his love and conflicted by split loyalties and his own divided nature, Takeo realized that he must make his own way on this journey of revenge and treachery. honor and loyalty, betrayal and love.
I have to say that I feel a little bad giving so few stars, as I can empathize with how hard the author worked to bring this story to everyone, but if you asked me how I liked it I could only tell you that ‘it was okay’, and at least on Goodreads, that’s what the two stars mean. However, don’t let my opinion shy you away if you think it sounds like something you’d like ─ you never know.
Anywho, this all began with a library booksale, where I found the second volume of this series. I’ve not come across many novels immersed in Japanese history, so I was excited to try it. As it turned out, though, this is not an actual historical fiction, which I’ll admit did bum me out a little. It’s heavily influenced by Japanese history, culture, custom, climate, and everything else, but in a fictional setting.
I loved the names, and Hearn does paint vivid pictures with her prose. The story, one of political intrigue, spite and revenge, secrets and differing loyalties, is actually a bit of a tragedy, which I think fits into the style of a lot of old legends and fairytales. Even though the two main characters in the story were given and vastly supported in the opportunity to have an ‘happily ever after’, extenuating circumstances did not allow for it. Sorry for the spoilers, no Cinderella ending here. At least in this volume, we’ll have to see about the series as a whole.
That part I didn’t mind too much (I’m one of those rather fond of romantic tragedies, remember Sergil and Lyla?). I suppose most of my trouble stems from the characters. None of them are especially moral, in the gallant knightly way we like to think of heroes being, these days. Shigeru wasn’t so bad, and he was truly the martyr in all of this. Lord Iida is a slippery snake of a villain in all the cruel and vile villainous ways of villains. His part was done pretty well, if you ask me.
So I suppose it’s actually Takeo that I had problems with. He’s our young protagonist, and as the summary states, he is a very conflicted and divided young man. For being raised in the ways of peace, he’s patroned brothels before the book even begins ─ so I have to say I can’t respect him a whole lot from that. He also succumbs to the desire for revenge fairly quickly, and it’s one of his driving forces throughout the story. Not keen on violence and murder, he yet hungers to learn the skills of his assassin heritage, imagines how to kill certain people, and seems okay with mercy killing. His desire for Kaede felt, to me, more sensual than anything else (but there’s very little such content and only brief, and in brief detail, which I can appreciate if it had to be in there at all).
What good I will say about our embroiled youth is that he is very good at what he does, even to surprising his teacher and fellow Tribe members. He is also unshakably loyal to Shigeru, his adoptive father, and is torn by the events manipulating everyone to such sorrow and trouble. I still can’t really figure out where he stands as a person.
In the end, I can’t say this has been one of my favorite stories, but did enjoy the novelty of it, and I am interested enough to see where the characters go from here to read book two.
Grass for His Pillow, Tales of the Otori Book 2