Tales of the Otori

I had seen these gorgeous books around for a while. These incredible hardcovers with their beautiful, colourful dust jackets with metallic accents – well, I just had to have them. The look absolutely stunning on my bookshelf. Although I had collected the entire set of Tales of the Otori, by Lian Hearn, a while ago, I only just recently got around to reading them.

The series is made up of a trilogy (“Across the Nightingale Floor,” “Grass for his Pillow” and “Brilliance of the Moon”, the finale (“The Harsh Cry of the Heron”), and a prequel (“Heaven’s Net is Wide”).  “Across the Nightingale Floor” follows a boy called Tomasu who is being raised in a village of people known as The Hidden. After narrowly escaping the fate of his family, slaughtered by the Tohan clan, Tomasu is adopted by the Lord Otori and renamed Takeo. Takeo starts to display some powers that suggest he is not who he thought he was, and he begins training to assist his new adopted father in bringing the Tohan to justice.

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The first book in the series, was full of surprises. Although it begins with a relatively standard fantasy premise, the series is set in feudal Japan which alone sets it quite apart in the genre. Something else that sets this series apart is that not far into the first book, it starts to become apparent that the writer is quite the feminist. The narrative is shared almost equally between the male and female main characters, and there are examples of women who own land and titles in their own right. Then, I found out that author Lian Hearn is in fact a woman. THEN I found out that Lian Hearn is actually a pseudonym, and the author is really Gillian Rubinstein, an author whose books I read (and, to be frank, abhorred) in school. After all this, when I thought that Hearn couldn’t surprise me any further, she introduced same-sex relationships into the mix.

The first three books in this series are good, but it was the fourth that was the standout. The characters that perhaps seemed a tad childish and a little too perfect grow to be flawed, adult and altogether more human. Hearn’s world is more expansive, the abilities of the mysterious Tribe explored in much greater depth and issues of gender, family and loyalty are really threshed out. The prequel is fine, but its narrative structure is very similar to that of the first book and so reads in a rather samey way. It shows Lord Otori’s upbringing, and so if you fall in love with his character, it is for that reason alone worth reading. Overall, Tales of the Otori is an incredibly intricate, engrossing and inclusive series which is a refreshing change from a genre that often lacks (ironically) imagination.

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