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Across the Nightingale Floor: Book One: Tales of the Otori
Lian Hearn
Riverhead Books, 304 pages

Across the Nightingale Floor
Lian Hearn
Lian Hearn is a pseudonym. Born in England and currently living in Australia, the author attended Oxford University, has studied Japanese and has a lifelong interest in Japan.

ISFDB Bibliography
Tales of the Otori

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Cindy Lynn Speer

Tomasu is one of The Hidden, a group whose religion is so persecuted that they hide in their villages, resorting to secret signs drawn against the inside of the hand as a means of identifying themselves when among strangers. Tomasu is a wanderer, and it is his wanderings that take him away from his village in time enough to avoid the massacre of his family. Lord Iida has long hated the Hidden, and has taken the opportunity to wipe their kind from the earth. Tomasu returns a little too early, and only through fortune and the intervention of a mysterious warrior is he able to escape his village's fate. The warrior introduces himself as Otori Shigeru, and suggests that Tomasu take up the name Takeo, for Tomasu is a Hidden name.

Shigeru takes Takeo to his home, where the servants all remark on his likeness to Shigeru's dead brother, Takeshi. He announces his intent to adopt Takeo as his own son, and arranges lessons for him. The servants are less than thrilled, because Takeo has lost his voice, and the head of them, Ichiro, thinks he's a half wit. With his loss of voice, Takeo discovers that he can hear everything clearly, and from a great distance. He can tell which dog is barking in the village, who is walking outside. It is a sign of his own special powers beginning to manifest, powers that will serve him well. For though he and Shigeru have a great regard for each other, they both know that Takeo has a purpose. They both want to see Lord Iida dead, and Takeo has the talents to see it done.

The concept of Across the Nightingale Floor is a famous one. It is a floor specially built so that no one can cross it without making it chirp and sing. Knowing this turns the title from a pretty line into a meaningful challenge, because Takeo must learn to defeat the Nightingale floor in order to achieve his goals.

This book is a very different sort of book. Lian Hearn masterfully brushes in the setting, stripping away the ponderousness of heavy detail, leaving a fluid, fast-moving story that is still beautifully set and written. I found my knowledge of the things we think of as conventionally Japanese, a certain feeling for honor and the need to create harmony with nature drew in the setting for me even stronger than heavy descriptions would have. It is a clever thing, to know how to bridge the gap between reader and story like this, to rely on the reader's own knowledge of what people generally know of a culture to fill in the gaps in the description. She does it, and it works perfectly.

The setting is lovely... Hearn took many aspects of Medieval Japan and created her own world, separate from the political history of the real Japan, but lush with its cultural. This approach is genius in some ways, because it allows the writer to use all the beauty and intrigue without worrying about fitting the story into a certain political timeline. It also allowed her room to create some very interesting aspects that following history to the hilt would not have. Yet her creations, such as the Tribe, and their strange powers, feel like they belong in the myths of our own Japan, and the tone of the story, and the stories own conventions bespeak of old Japanese stories.

This is the first book of a trilogy. All three books have been written, and I am looking forward to the rest. Hearn's writing is as perfectly balanced as a fine sword, filled with moments as sweet as any Nightingale's song.

Copyright © 2002 Cindy Lynn Speer

Cindy Lynn Speer loves books so much that she's designed most of her life around them, both as a librarian and a writer. Her books aren't due out anywhere soon, but she's trying. You can find her site at

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