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Across the Nightingale Floor: Tales of the Otori Book One    by Lian Hearn order for
Across the Nightingale Floor
by Lian Hearn
Order:  USA  Can
Riverhead, 2003 (2002)
Hardcover, Softcover, Audio, CD

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Raised among the gentle Hidden in a remote mountain valley, a boy roams 'like a wild monkey' until he returns one day to find his village burnt by the Tohan clan. Saved by Shigeru, a lord of the Otori, the boy is adopted by him and named Takeo after his dead brother.

Takeo discovers that Shigeru loves the beautiful Lady Maruyama, whose domains can only be handed down to daughters, not to sons. She returns Lord Otori's affections, but her daughter is held hostage by Tohan lord Iida, and he seeks her hand in marriage. Iida slaughtered ten thousand Otori (by means of a betrayal by the Noguchi) at the battle of Yaegahara, took much of their land in the Middle Country, and gave the rule of the Otori into the hands of Shigeru's uncles, when it should have gone to him.

In the city of Hagi, the castle town of the Otori, Shigeru adopts Takeo as his son (there is a surprising family resemblance), and has him tutored in traditional ways and also by Muto Kenji, an old friend of Shigeru's. He is of the magical Tribe, who often take contracts as spies and assassins. It seems that Takeo also has that heritage. He has an extraordinary acuteness of hearing and the ability to seem to be in two places at once. It soon becomes clear to Takeo that Shigeru plans to use his adopted son against his enemies.

At the same time as all this is happening, Kaede, eldest daughter of Lord Shirakawa, is held an unhappy hostage and dishonorably treated as a servant in Noguchi Castle. She gains a reputation for causing men's deaths after a guard who attacks her is killed and a lord to whom she is betrothed dies. Then Shigeru's uncles and Iida plan his marriage with Kaede, and they both must travel to Tohan Inuyama for the wedding.

Shigeru brings Takeo and Muto Kenji along, and Takeo poses as an artist by day in enemy territory, while carrying out Zorro-like night excursions. When Takeo and Kaede meet, they fall for each other, but see no possible future. Then Iida's plans come to fruition, the Tribe claims Takeo in Shigeru's most dangerous hour, but he still manages to cross Iida's famed 'Nightingale Floor'.

Across the Nightingale Floor is the first of an exciting (though not very subtle) series, set in a fantastic ancient Japan, where the Hidden are persecuted and the Tribe sell their services as ninja-like assassins while pursuing their own agenda. I look forward to the second episode, Grass for his Pillow.

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