Tales of the Otori
Fabulous. Absolutely fabulous.
I loved everything about these books. The story, the writing, even the covers. The only complaint I have is that there was very little resolution at the end of books one and two, but since I had all three books and didn't have to wait a year for the sequels, that hardly much to complain about.
The story takes place in a place that is almost Japan in a time that is not quite our past. In the background mighty lords vie for power and domination while 17-year old Tomasu has grown up in isolation in a Hidden village. This isolation comes to a brutal end as Iida Sadamu and his men fall upon the village to destroy it from following the ways of the hidden.
Elsewhere, Kaede Shirakawa is a hostage in the home of Lord Noguchi, her presence there serving as proof of her family's loyalty to Lord Iida.
And in the Otori family, Lord Shigeru finds Tomasu, and the boy becomes entangled in the plots and snares that surround the Otori lord.
Let me give you the first two paragraphs of the first book:
My mother used to threaten to tear me into eight pieces if I knocked over the water bucket, or pretended not to hear her calling me to come home as the dusk thickened and the cicadas' shrilling increased. I would hear her voice, rough and fierce, echoing through the lonely valley. "Where's that wretched boy? I'll tear him apart when he gets back."
But when I did get back, muddy from sliding down the hillside, bruised from fighting, once bleeding great spouts of blood from a stone wound to the head (I still have the scar, like a silvered thumbnail), there would be the fire, and the smell of soup, and my mother's arms not tearing me apart but trying to hold me, clean my face, or straighten my hair, while I twisted like a lizard to get away from her.
I particularly liked the way that the mistakes that Takeo and Kaede make are written. Sometimes when a character makes a stupid mistake, it's frustrating to read. They should have known better. How could they have been so dumb? What I enjoyed about these books was that the mistakes that Takeo and Kaede made were stupid mistakes, but they came across as the mistakes of youth and naiveté, which made them sympathetic mistakes, rather than frustrating, annoying mistakes. It's a fine line that not all authors are able to cross. Especially when writing teenage characters.
I also like the way that Lian Hearn doesn't spare his characters. People are wounded. People die. Actions have consequences. It lead me to wonder whether all the main characters would survive to the end of the story, although I resisted the urge to skip to the end and peek. (It was tempting though, when I wanted to sleep as much as I wanted to know what happened.)
The story is also full of poetry, and the descriptions of paintings by great artists. It was enough to make me wish that I didn't have a tin ear when it comes to poetry.
I loved the story. I loved the characters. I loved the writing. I can hardly wait for time to pass so that I can read these books again.
Re-read: February 2013
Across the Nightingale Floor (2002)
I first read these several years ago, and, as I said at the time, couldn’t wait for enough time to pass so I could reread them.
Far more time than I expected has passed, but when I came across other books in the series, I had to read these books again.
Takeo was raised among the hidden, with a different name. But when Lord Iida slaughters his village, Takeo is saved by Lord Otori Shigeru, and becomes a piece in the politics of the middle land.
Lady Kaede Shirakawahas spent the past several years as a hostage to Iida, living as a servant with the Noguchi, until Iida sees her as a piece in his plot to destroy Shigeru.
Reading this after having read Heaven’s Net is Wide is very different from the first time I read this. For one thing, I’m older now, but more importantly, I spent several hundred pages with Shigeru, so as much as I was interested in what happened to Takeo, I cared even more what happened to Shugeru, even knowing he was doomed.
But I still enjoyed the world, and the characters who live in it.
It’s not a fast romp, but a leisurely stroll, which is something you will want to take into consideration. But as a leisurely stroll, it’s just the kind of path I like to wander.
Published by Riverhead Books
Heaven’s Net is Wide (2007)
This is the tale of Lord Otori Shigeru, heir to the Otori clan. But it is so very much more. We learn not just of the Otori–Shigeru’s family, but of The Tribe, and of the Hidden, and of the Maruyama and of the amazing and fabulous world that is–but yet is not–Japan.
I read the Tales of the Otori years ago, and loved the series, but somehow, never managed to read the fourth book, and didn’t know there was a prequel.
How could I have forgotten how good Lian Hearn’s writing is?
How could I have forgotten how easy it is to fall in love with her characters?
It’s been long enough that I remember only bits and pieces of the series. Mostly what I remembered is how much I loved the series, which is probably what kept me from re-reading it or reading the other books in the series. The fear that it would not be as good as I remembered and I would be disappointed.
More the fool me.
I’d write, more, but I have the rest of the series to re-read, and read, and I really don’t want to put it off any longer.
Published by Riverhead Trade