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Member Name: velissaria
Across the Nightingale Floor - Lian Hearn
Date: 20/11/09, updated on 09/04/10 (86 review reads)
Advantages: feudal lords, assassins, swords, battles, action, intrigue
Disadvantages: too shallow, too fictional
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
Summary: NOT suitable for children; an easy read for older teenagers
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