Across the Nightingale Floor (Tales of the Otori) by Lian Hearn
This is the first novel of a series set in an imaginary world based on feudal Japan and the chivalric Bushido code of conduct. It successfully takes you into that world of honor and loyalty, mastery of martial arts, married with simple living and appreciation of nature and art. Well – that’s how the good guys aim to act – but at heart remember they are all warriors.
The three nations that make up this land are at war and Lord Iida wants it all. He lives in fear of being assassinated though, the nightingale floor of his palace sings – no assassin could cross it without being heard. So he schemes and plans on how to trap the Otori clan into alliance, using the kidnapped daughter of another subdued Lord as bait. Iida is also systematically trying to wipe out the Hidden, a pseudo-Christian sect that live in secrecy. At the start of the novel young Tomasu is the only survivor of a massacre of Hidden and is rescued by Lord Otori Shigeru before Iida can kill him too. Shigeru recognises something in the boy and decides to adopt him, and thus begins a life of adventure, romance and very hard work for the boy, rechristened Takeo. Unbeknown to him though, another secret sect known as The Tribe, a sort of ninja assassin guild, also seek need him for their plans.
Hearn has produced a remarkably well realised world. Shigeru, in particular is a potent force for good, he was my favourite character by far. Takeo, whose life and career will develop in the subsequent volumes in this series, starts off as an empty shell, to be formed, like Kung-Fu‘s Grasshopper, into the warrior and more that is inside him. We are also introduced to young Lady Kaede, the hostage who is to be married to Shigeru, but predictably falls for Takeo. All are well fleshed out characters. Iida and his henchmen though are rather stereotypical baddies and sketchily drawn.
The novel is full of action, but takes its time. In between these scenes, there is much philosophy, talk of politics, and some time for romance too. Takeo, our grasshopper, has to learn many new skills and go on a voyage of self-discovery that leaves you at the end desperate for more. Volumes two and three immediately go onto my wish list – Highly recommended for 12+. (9/10)