18 May 2009

Review: Tales of the Otori by Lian Hearn

Here's a new feature at Beth Fish Reads. In the years before I started blogging, I kept notes about the books I read. Every once in a while I will post mini reviews of books I read in my pre-blogging days. Enjoy.

Across Nightingale Floor, Grass for His Pillow, and Brilliance of the Moon were the original books in the Tales of the Otori series by Lian Hearn. I discovered these novels on audio but they would be wonderful in print as well.

Takeo is a young boy who was raised by his single mother in principles of a forbidden nonviolent religious sect in feudal Japan known as the Hidden. When his village is ransacked, he manages to escape and is saved by Lord Otori Shigeru, who eventually adopts him. Lord Shigeru tells Takeo who his father was and then teaches the boy the ways of the Tribe, a people who are known to possess mysterious skills. The boy is called on to use his skills to help his adoptive father, even though he must break from the teachings of the Hidden.

Meanwhile, Shirakawa Kaede's father is looking for a husband for her. Naturally, he is concerned only with bettering himself, and Kaede has no say in the matter. As she is struggling to find a way to have some control over her own life, she and Takeo meet. They seem destined to be together, but fate separates them as they each must fight for what is theirs.

This series is a great find for fans of the myth as described by Joseph Campbell. Although the broader plot line follows the familiar path of reluctant lowly hero who finally accepts his destiny, this book brings new interest to the genre. The descriptions of the countryside and peoples are vivid without being wordy—somewhat like a Japanese watercolor. The complexities of the relations among the social classes, clans, and religious sects are revealed slowly, so we discover important information along with Takeo, the boy whose story we follow. Takeo's narrative is interwoven with the story of Kaede, a young woman who is used by her father for political gain.

Of the three books , the first was the most well written and most interesting. Grass for His Pillow contained some surprises, but Brilliance of the Moon was somewhat predictable. All in all, though, I can recommend the series as an admirable addition to the myth literature. The books would appeal to fantasy fans and to fans of the movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

All three books are narrated by Kevin Gray and Aiko Nakasone. Gray is an expressive reader. Nakasone's delivery is a bit monotone, but stick with her; I soon got used to her voice and it no longer bothered me.

Published by Penguin Group (USA)
Across the Nightingale Floor: 2003 (ISBN-13: 9781573223324)
Grass for His Pillow: 2004 (ISBN-13: 9781594480034)
Brilliance of the Moon: 2006 (ISBN-13: 9780641930959)

The Harsh Cry of the Heron is the epilogue and Heaven's Net Is Wide is the prequel.

The Harsh Cry of the Heron brings a satisfying end to the story of Takeo and Kaede. However, we are introduced to new people whose lives and adventures could draw us back into medieval Japan, if the author wanted to continue the series. The action and characters were complex and believable; it was almost impossible to stop listening.

Heaven's Net Is Wide was the last book to be written and is first chronologically. It takes place before Across the Nightingale Floor and tells the story of Lord Otori Shigeru. In it, we learn much more about the feudal kingdoms and important background to Takeo's story. It was bewitching, and the second I turned the MP3 player off I wanted to restart the entire series. I haven't reread the books yet, but will definitely do so at some point.

The narrators for the last two books were Julia Fletcher, Henri Lubatti (Heron), and J. Paul Boehmer (Heaven). I don't remember being disturbed or thrown by the change in readers.

Published by Penguin Group (USA)
Harsh Cry of the Heron: 2007 (ISBN-13: 9781594482571)
Heaven's Net Is Wide: 2007 (ISBN-13: 9781594489532)

Lian Hearn has a website with further information about the books, the writing process, and links.


farmlanebooks 5/18/09, 8:02 AM  

I read Across the Nightingale Floor a few years ago, and found it to be OK. The writing style was very simple, and I think it would probably be a great book for children, but didn't have enough depth for me. I didn't go on to read the rest in the series, and if you say the first was the best, then I'm glad I made that decision. Perhaps it comes across differently on audio book?

Beth F 5/18/09, 8:15 AM  

Jackie/Farmlane: But you didn't like LOTR either, did you? Epic fantasy is a favorite genre of mine.

Laza 5/18/09, 8:30 AM  

I've had Across the Nightingale Floor on my shelf for years and never managed to read it. Maybe now I'll have to get into it.

farmlanebooks 5/18/09, 8:44 AM  

Your right! I'm not a fan of LOTR!!

LOTR is a very different book though. The writing in LOTR has a lot more depth, and the story (apart from being way too long!) is quite complex.

ATNF is more historical fiction than fantasy though. It is set in fuedal Japan, and most of it could have happended. I find it very interesting that you compare them, as I wouldn't have put them in the same bracket at all!

I'm pleased you enjoyed them all though.

bermudaonion 5/18/09, 8:45 AM  

I'm going to send this link to Vance - they all look like books he would enjoy.

Molly 5/18/09, 9:49 AM  

I wish I had thought to keep records of books I read over time. I didn't even think to such a thing until I started back to school last summer. Oh well, I suppose better late than never.

I look forward to this feature.

Julie P. 5/18/09, 9:51 AM  

I love this idea, but sadly I probably can't get my act together and do it!

Margot 5/18/09, 11:58 AM  

I like this new feature of yours. Nice to see the whole series together.

Sandy Nawrot 5/18/09, 12:32 PM  

I think this is a great idea! I kept no records whatsoever of the books I read before blogging, but there are some that I remember well enough that I think I could do something similar. Also, CB James had mentioned that he might re-publish some of his older posts. Not a bad idea either!

Belle 5/18/09, 3:38 PM  

What a great idea for a new feature. This series definitely sounds interesting.

Michele at Reader's Respite 5/18/09, 4:50 PM  

Love this feature and can't wait to see more!!

Melody 5/18/09, 8:28 PM  

I like your idea of this feature. I'm definitely looking forward for more!

lilly 5/19/09, 9:37 AM  

I have never heard of this series but I have to find it now! I love anything that has to do with feudal, mythical Japan so I know that most likely I will enjoy these books.

Cathy 5/19/09, 11:53 AM  

I really enjoyed the first two books in this series, but after the third, my interest began to lag. I haven't read the last two.

S. Krishna 5/19/09, 11:41 PM  

This is a great idea!

Jen - devourer of books 5/20/09, 4:49 PM  

I wish I'd kept notes about my reading before I started blogging. A month or so after I started my sister asked me what I had read just a couple of months earlier and I didn't have any idea.

Kailana 5/21/09, 5:32 AM  

I have the second and third book on my TBR pile. I really must buy Across the Nightingale Floor one of these days and see what the series is all about!

Elizabeth 5/21/09, 10:09 AM  

I'm halfway through the series and really enjoy it. I'm glad to hear the last novel is strong. I like this new feature!

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