First published in 2002, ‘Across the Nightingale Floor’ is the first novel in the best-selling Otori series (aimed at Young Adults). I picked it up on a whim, really, and was drawn in by the old-school hero’s quest ingredients that made me fall in love with Fantasy in the first place; loyalty, honour, light and dark, good vs. evil, a touch of magic – and a tragic protagonist (Takeo), whose journey is told using the immediacy of the first-person narrative. We experience Takeo’s mental, spiritual and personal development through Hearn’s accessible employment of words that are as simply and artfully put as a Haiku.
The historical and geographical backdrop (an imaginary, feudal ‘Japan-like’ nation, with a similar culture and outlook) showcases that this tale gently mirrors a place whose culture and mythology Hearn is attracted to or inspired by, and this makes the storytelling as comforting as sitting on grandma’s knee by the fire – though at some rare times it might be more kids’ Hallowe’en stories than Christmas ones.
It is worth noting that ‘Lian Hearn’ is a nom-de-plume, used for creating only this world by Gillian Rubinstein, who has a far greater, earlier output as a children’s author; this perhaps explains the simplicity of the writing. It may irk some readers who want something a bit more ‘scholarly’ (or, indeed, actual Japan) but if this novel is anything to go by, I would recommend Rubinstein’s books to the right age ranges.
I think I’ll – more deliberately than my first purchase – see if I can find cheap copies of the rest of the series, along with some of her other Lian Hearn work.
And it is a pretty cool cover. Don’t you think?
Lian Hearn’s stunningly powerful bestseller, Across the Nightingale Floor, is an epic story for readers young and old. Set in a mythical, feudal, Japanese land, a world both beautiful and cruel, the intense love story of two young people takes place against a background of warring clans, secret alliances, high honour and lightning swordplay.
In his palace at Inuyama, Lord Iida Sadamu, warlord of the Tohan clan, surveys his famous nightingale floor. Its surface sings at the tread of every human foot, and no assassin can cross it. But sixteen-year-old Otori Takeo, his family murdered by Iida’s warriors, has the magical skills of the Tribe – preternatural hearing, invisibility, a second self – that enable him to enter the lair of the Tohan. He has love in his heart and death at his fingertips . . .
The first novel in the epic Tales of the Otori series, Across the Nightingale Floor is followed by Grass For His Pillow and Brilliance of the Moon.