Friday 10 April 2020


'Tales of the Otori' by Lian Hearn    {Reviewed by STELLA}
My obsession this week has been the 'Tales of the Otori' series. Initially published from 2002, these books have lived on the shelf at home for several years (Founders Book Fair finds). The week began with Across the Nightingale Floor and ended with Brilliance of the Moon (and now I’m on to the sequel - Harsh Cry of the Heron.) Set in feudal Japan, a young boy has a carefree life in the hillside village of Mino until it is attacked by the Tohan forces. He is one of the Hidden, a non-violent and insular group who do not adhere to the beliefs or principles of the warring factions that surround them. Tomaso (soon to be renamed Takeo) is the only survivor and escapes into the hills with two warriors on his tail. Just as the men gain on him, he is grabbed on the path by a man in travelling clothes. This man becomes his protector and purpose. Lord Shigeru, the legitimate heir of the Otori clan, takes Takeo into his home, adopts him and begins instructing him the way of the warrior and, through Kenji (a Muto tribe leader), in the ways of the mysterious and dangerous Tribe — the expert spies and assassins. Takeo is descended from the Kikitu family who have superior and fascinating abilities — exceptional hearing, second self and ‘invisibility’. The Tribe expect complete obedience (something that the young man Takeo finds counter to his upbringing) and Lord Shigeru also has plans for him in his endeavours to retain his rightful inheritance as the head of the Otori clan. Yet this is not only the tale of Takeo. While some lords play at war and military might, others seek and gain power through alliances, marriage and the taking of hostages. One such hostage is the young and beautiful Lady Kaede, the eldest daughter, from the Shirakawa family. Given as a hostage and guarantee of obedience as a young girl to a minor and contemptible warlord, Kaede has spent half of her fifteen years in captivity at his castle. As she matures, her beauty and reputation precede her, and Kaede becomes a pawn in the games between the warring clans. A marriage is arranged between Lady Kaede Shirakawa and Lord Shigeru Otori at the insistence of the powerful leader of the Tohan, Iida Sadumu — a marriage which Kaede fears and which is a trap for Shigeru. Pull in Shigeru’s lover, Lady Maruyama Naomi, and a blossoming attraction between Takeo and Kaede, along with intrigue, secrets and danger, and the scene is set for a dramatic and drastic outcome. In the first book, both Kaede and Takeo must find the inner strengths and utilise all their intellect and physical advantages to overcome powerful leaders, often working blind in a situation where they do not know the rules or the plans of these overlords, and the deadly lengths they will go to retain or gain power. As you can imagine, both Taeko and Kaede make it through the first book, but their woes will continue, and greater trials and danger ensue in Grass for His Pillow and Brilliance of the Moon. Now Takeo has a prophecy: five battles — four to win and one to lose, and his death will come at the hands of his son. Does he believe in this prophecy or is it mere superstition? And where does he stand in the world when his lineage is split across three paths — Tribe, Otori and Hidden? This is an excellent series — gripping and intriguing; a story of suspense, love, loyalty, double-crossing, mystery and revenge. So good that I'm going back to Book 4 immediately so I can be immersed in the world of the Otori. 

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