I love it when a book you’ve never heard of comes into your life and blows you away. This novel, Across the Nightingale Floor is the first in the series ‘Tales of the Otori’ by Lian Hearn. Lian Hearn is the pseudonym of English-born writer Gillian Rubinstein and she has been writing under this name since 2001 when she began this series. I read this first novel near the start of 2013 and the series has kept me going right up until a few months ago.
There are two main characters, Tomasu who comes to be known as Takeo, and Kaede. I particularly enjoyed the author’s choice to have a male and female protagonist as it gives the novel a wider scope of readership.I have found this novel really appeals to boys because it is, to quote a sixteen year old boy from my class, “solid as” (which I think means something like, cool, action packed, exciting, violent, realistic). Said student’s parents told me at parent teacher interviews that they have a house full of books and this is the first thing he’s picked up and really gotten into. Success! The great thing is that it also appeals to girls because there is adventure, romance, and because Kaede is the kind of female protagonist that girls can relate to and aspire to.
The setting of the novel is basically a mythical reinterpretation of Japan and much of the culture mirrors Japanese customs. There is a fairly small element of fantasy balanced with what comes across as quite historically inspired fiction. Because of this setting I think it is a good book to put kids who are really into manga but don’t like reading much. There are intrigues, plots, revenge, tragedy, romance, violence, war and some very difficult choices.
Kaede is a danger to herself because of her beauty and her strength. In the male dominated society she is a part of, these traits make here someone desired by men, yet her instincts to look out for herself are something we as readers admire, but she as a character must hide. Takeo is a gifted young man with his own secrets. He is taken in by Shigeru Otori after his village is massacred by a warlord for being a small religious group known as the Hidden.
Takeo is trained to become an assassin, contrary to the Hidden beliefs of non-violence, and adopted as Shigeru’s heir. His abilities and talents are incredibly cool but I won’t tell you too much about them or it might ruin the excitement of it all. It’s one of those novels where you’re just on the edge of your seat waiting for the paths of these two awesome characters to intersect. Which of course they do.
It’s a good book to study at high school, some of the content might be too violent for younger adolescent readers but it’s pretty good in terms of content. Some of the themes and issues explored are fate and destiny, the role of women and men in society, conflict and warfare, religion, relationships and family and social class structures.
I am really hoping the rumors of an upcoming film are well founded as I think there is a niche for it in the film market as a young adult movie with action and romance that isn’t a depressing reflection of the future we can look forward to like some of the other dystopian fiction which is all the rage at the moment. Not that I have an issue with dystopian fiction, I love that stuff! But historical and mythical and fantastical shouldn’t be overlooked.
These books are a must read, there is just so much in them to get into and mull over.
My rating: 4/5
Want to read it? Buy it here.