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I must admit I put off reading this book when I first received it as a present. I wasn't sure what to expect, but the title was relatively engaging and memorable. It made somewhat of an impression on me. So after about 2 weeks of it having a stand off with me, I caved in and read the thing.
To be honest, I wasn't sure what to think of the book once I'd finished it. It's based in tribal Japan, is filled with Japanese "tradition" and has lots of intense sections and a generally well thought out story.
This is where the good praise ends. Unfortunately, even the strongest knot can fray. The same goes with the storyline in this book, I can't put my finger on the exact point but something just doesn't add up. I also found it genuinely difficult to engross myself in the story and the world the author was trying his very best to create for me.
I just can't say I enjoyed the book. The story was fun to follow and I was slightly curious, but I can't say I'd buy the sequel.
Hearn L. (2002) Across the Nightingale Floor (Tales of the Otori)(Paperback). Macmillan Children's Books; New edition edition 2004. 304 pages. # ISBN-10: 033041528X # ISBN-13: 978-0330415286.
*Amazon price: £4.71
* The Book:
This is the first of Lian Hearn's popular series (initially a trilogy) "Tales of the Otori". The book was first published in 2002. It follows the story of a teenager boy, Tomasu, who one day finds his family and the whole village slaughtered and burned by Lord Iida Sadamu, leader of the Tohan clan. He manages to escape thanks to Lord Shigeru of the Otori, who rescues him and later adopts him, giving him the new name "Takeo". But Takeo's teacher, Muto Kenji, reveals to him that he descends from the "Tribe", something similar to a Ninja clan, and that he possesses the deadly talents of the perfect assassin. The second main character of the story is Kaede, a teenager Lady who spent most of her life as a hostage in the castle of a rival clan. She is forced to get married, but when she meets Takeo they fall in love. However, will Takeo be able to be with her, while he owns his life to Lond Shigeru and the Tribe also tries to reclaim him?
* My reality:
Having read some Amazon reviews about this book, I expected so much more and finally got disappointed. The reviews claim that it is a book for teenagers and adults as well, but although some battle descriptions are particularly gory and not suitable for children and younger teenagers, the plot and the language are too simplistic to satisfy an adult who has some knowledge of the Far East. I can't understand how the Independent found this book suitable for "older children and indeed for adults", or why the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph perceived it as a "Japanese Harry Potter". It couldn't be further from this in terms of plot, characters or writing style!
The plot is interesting, but not worked in such a detail as it could and should, and the story starts abruptly; I would have liked to know more about Takeo's childhood memories and life in the village prior the attack. The writing is neither "brisk" nor "elegant"; it is flat and unemotional. The main characters remain two-dimensional and I couldn't relate to them or care less. Worst of all, most of the reviews and book descriptions lead the reader to believe that it will be a story taking place in a fictional medieval Japan. This was particularly attractive to me, as I enjoy the cultural information that usually authors include in this kind of books (e.g. I loved Takashi Matsuoka's "Cloud of Sparrows" or Arthur Golden's "Memoirs of a Geisha"). Although the author, Lian Hearn, studied the Japanese Language and travelled to Japan, she clearly states that the setting and period are imaginary, and only the landscape and seasons are those of Japan. Indeed, her writing has nothing of the Far Eastern philosophical references, quotations and elegant diplomatic polite style, found in other similar books. It is more of a boring blunt description than a dynamic narration with witty dialogues - which are lacking altogether -. I found only the information of what a "nightingale floor" is to be of real interest to me.
So I would recommend the book to older teenagers, because it is an easy read. But, if you are really interested in Japanese historical fiction, then one of the aforementioned books, or "Shogun" by James Clavell, are far more appropriate and rewarding reads. Also, I cannot stress enough that THIS IS NOT CHILDREN'S FICTION or a "junior book" despite the fact that it is marketed as such. It's actually quite upsetting to read reviews on the Otori books by 14 year-old kids or to see at the author's - nicely done - website photos with kids as young as 11 waiting for a book signature. This book and the rest of the Otori Tales feature themes such as rape, sex, homosexuality, throat cutting and attempted incest, which, in my opinion, children and young teenagers don't - or shouldn't - have the life experience to really comprehend.
Shortlisted for the Carnegie medal
2004 Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreis
Across the Nightingale floor is the first part of Lian Hearn's Tales of Otori series, which consists of the main trilogy (Across the Nightingale floor, Grass for His Pillow and Brilliance of the Moon) and a sequel which takes place about 15 years after the end of the trilogy and a prequel which details how we arrived at the situation of the first book in greater depth and detail.
On to the review of the book then, Across the Nightingale Floor is set in ancient Japan in a society that revolves around warfare and intrigue. However to add in to this there is a mysterious group named the Tribe which have supernatural abilities and play a huge role in the politics of this world.
The book focuses around a character named Takeo and follows his path from a mere peasant to a Lord. His journey is by no means a simple one with varying influences upon his life pulling him in different directions not least of all his superhuman abilities which shape his whole life.
Moving on from the plot, the book is targeted at a wide audience from teenagers to adults. The book is very readable and accessible to anyone who chooses to read it and the plot is suitably dramatic to keep most interested for it's duration and still leaving the reader wanting more.
The book contains a huge amount of characters and one criticism is that are perhaps too many and some may get lost in a see of Otoris, Mutos and Tohans.
However Hearn manages to keep them in check relatively well and always keeps the focus on our main heroines of Kaede and Takeo.
All in all Across the Nightingale Floor and series as a whole is extremely enjoyable and I would highly recommend to those of you who are looking for an easy read and simply a good story.
This is a series I began reading a couple of years ago, but it wasnt finished. It is a pet peeve of mine having to wait for a sequel, so I put it back on a shelf to pick up again later.
If you enjoy a break from fast paced action or strenuous philosophical mental workouts, I highly recommend this series.
There are 3 books in the tales of the otori, with a prequel due out sometime this year, the author set out to write a fantasy not based in the anglo-celtic stereotypical world we see so much of, thanks largely to Tolkien, but instead imagined a world much like ancient Japan, a world populated by class systems, warrior codes and family obligation. Assasins, ninja-like magic and power struggles, both of a personal and political kind are a key theme in the series.
The writing style is much like that of Usula le Guin, who wrote the Earthsea stories, it is beautifully written, with rich language and full of emotion.
The first book, across the nightingale floor, tells the story of a young man who's family is slaughtered and his life after his rescue and adoption by a wealthy lord. when he begins to develop the talents of the mysterious 'tribe' he discovers his life and history is much more complicated than he had first imagined. He begins to revel in his talents, his ability to creep unseen through the city, or to adopt different personas in order to disguise himself, but he soon learns that everyone around him knows more about him than he does.
I've been a fan of Chinese martial arts stories for many years. Unfortunately, because of the lack of translators good enough to translate the complicated Chinese that is used in the genre, few have been translated into English. Therefore, when I came across a series of books written in English that looked of a similar genre, albeit set in Japan rather than China, I snapped them up immediately. I was very surprised to find that the author wasn't Japanese, didn't even have much experience about Japan and that the books had been written directly into English, but thought they were still worth a read. The books are supposed to be for both adults and teenagers. The book I am reviewing is the first of the series, which in itself is split into two episodes.
The Japan of the time of the story is split into three countries, the leaders of which are constantly fighting for supremacy. Tomasu is a sixteen year old boy who lives in a remote village amongst the members of the Hidden, a tribe who believe in peace and so keep hidden away from the rest of the world. One day, while out collecting mushrooms, Tomasu returns to find his neighbours slain and his family missing. His own life seems to be in the balance, when he is snatched away from certain death by Lord Otori Shigeru.
Tomasu is taken in by Lord Shigeru, who changes his name to Takeo, formally adopts him and hires a teacher to educate him in literature and martial arts. Lord Shigeru is the head of the Otori clan, one of the three great clans in Japan, and the great enemy of Iida Sadamu, Lord of the Tohan clan. The latter was responsible for both the deaths of Takeo's family and Lord Shigerus's brother and father. But things are not quite as straightforward as Takeo first thought. Takeo, who feels a strong allegiance for Lord Shigeru, finds out that his real father was an assassin for the Tribe, a network of fighters known for their extraordinary skills and magic powers. Whose side will Takeo take?
Despite the large number of characters in the book, Takeo is clearly character number one, although the story is told both by Takeo and Kaede, a young girl unwillingly affianced to Lord Shigeru. Takeo and Kaede fall in love at first sight, but are both aware that they will never be able to come together. Takeo is not a typical sixteen year old boy; he has been forced to grow up far more quickly than he should have had to and suffers deeply at the death of his mother and sisters. He quickly recognises his love for his rescuer, Lord Shigeru and is determined to bring about the killer of both Shigeru's family and his own, Lord Iida. Unfortunately, he is to learn that things do not always turn out the way they are planned.
Kaede plays quite an important role in the book, although I felt all the way through that she was being merely introduced in this book and that her character would really come to the fore in later books in the series. I did find the 'love affair' between her and Takeo a little unlikely, but perhaps it is just that I am not very romantic.
Neither character can be said to be realistic. This is, after all, a book about magical powers. They seemed all the less realistic to me because I couldn't help wondering how much the Australian Lian Hearn, who spent just short periods of her life in Japan, could possibly know about Japanese people. To be honest, it doesn't really make that much difference to the book, but I still found her background at the back of my mind all the way through.
This was an enjoyable and very readable book, with enough of a combination of tragedy, romance and magic to keep me interested. However, I did feel that, especially compared to some of the Chinese martial arts stories that I enjoy so much, there was something missing. The story was generally too simplistic and I couldn't help but think that it would be better suited to a younger audience. The language was certainly simple enough.
At the beginning of the book, there is a map of the areas that the story is set in and also a breakdown of all the characters and the various clans and tribes to which they belong. This is really helpful and I think I would have struggled to follow the story without this.
To a certain extent, the book could have been set anywhere and I really felt that the author's lack of knowledge about the country in which the story was supposed to be set was all too obvious. Perhaps this isn't important; perhaps the fact that she is spreading the word about Japan to an audience that don't know all that much about it is a good thing. Nevertheless, it did niggle.
One final niggle is that this is the first book in a series of four (at least four have been written so far) and so the reader is left with an awful lot of questions at the end. That is fine if you are intending to continue reading; not if you want the book to be a one-off. I am vaguely tempted to read on in the series, but I don't think I would buy - I would probably try and borrow from the library. Recommended, with reservations, particularly for teenagers.
The book is available from play.com for £5.59. Published by Pan Macmillan, it has 320 pages. ISBN: 0330493345
Sadly, "Across the Nightingale Floor" is a book with a lot of potential but without the final effort from the author to make it stand out.
The plot is loosely written around the tale of star-crossed lovers, but also includes an adventurous twist involving ancient clans and the story of a boy whose fate is caught in the middle of their quarrels.
"Across the Nightingale Floor" could have been an incredibly gripping and exciting novel, but feels rushed throughout and the background to the story lacks foundations. Throughout the book it is hinted that the culture is that of Japanese or Chinese, however you are never given this imagery in full and so I was personally left with a blurry image whilst reading.
Most of the story is written as though it is the main characters account, and starts with a brief introduction to his life thus far. The plot changes quickly when young Tomasu (later to be known as Takeo) is witness to a brutal massacre and finds himself on the run from a powerful clan lord, with the aid of a mysterious stranger.
There are times after this when the author, Lian Hearn, tries to create suspense and leave you guessing such as to the identity of this heroic saviour but the story has been tried before so often that it is not hard to guess and in my opinion this leaves the reader feeling slightly hollow.
To bulk the story out (and to probably add drive to the characters motives), the author adds romantic ties to the book. Two romantic ties to be exact; one for Tomasu and one for the mysterious stranger. Where Tomusus love is young and autonomous, Shigerus is old and forbidden. However, just like before, the story is rushed and so their relationships are not convincing nor do you feel for these characters for the duration of story. Maybe I am too sentimental, but I felt unmoved by this area of the book and at parts was completely apathetic of Tomasus love, which was very patently supposed to be sincere. This is such a shame because one of the most gripping qualities of a good story is to be able to forget your real life and take on the story within the book as your own. I personally could not do this with Across the Nightingale Floor.
I dont mean to sound harsh. This book is well written throughout and there are some chapters where I did find myself wanting to read to the end, but I wont spoil them for you by explaining them as they are few and far between! There is also one good twist to the story involving Tomasu, which sets it very precisely in the fantasy section.
I would recommend this book for a train journey or holiday, when you just want to read something without having to commit too much attention to it. If you do decide to read this book, all I can really say is dont expect to be swept away!