Across the Nightingale Floor boasts a novel milieu, but not a novel storyline. Review by S.K. Slevinski

Book Cover

In Print
This book is the first of Lian Hearn's Tales of the Otori series, and its appeal is clear. Set in feudal Japan and fueled by magic and imagination, this novel fills a gap in the current fantasy field which is still over-populated with medieval European style fantasy. The storyline, however, does not veer far from fantasy tradition.

At the opening of this novel, our young hero, Takeo, is thrust into the harsh reality of the world when his village is attacked and burned, and his family killed. Now an orphan, Takeo finds himself on the run from the raiding forces, which are led by a warlord fast gaining power in the region. He is rescued by Shigeru, an Otori Lord, who takes him on as his ward and mentors him about the warrior life. As Shigeru's ward, Takeo soon finds himself in the middle of clan politics, where life and honor are acutely at stake. When Shigeru decides to accept the terms of a marriage contract as part of an underhanded alliance agreement that will likely mean his death, Takeo finds himself at the fore of the conflict. And furthermore, Takeo has fallen in love with the woman Shigeru is bound to marry.

Book Cover

On Audio
The milieu may be a novelty, but long-time fans of fantasy will recognize this story arc as an all too common one. A young boy, orphaned by tragedy, taken in by a sagely mentor coming of age, learning magic... ring a bell, anyone? It's the most frequent character arc in fantasy, and if you add the story of young lovers pining after each other in a society that forbids them from being together... well, you get an overall predictable story that treads the well-worn path of many fantasies, romances and coming-of-age stories before it. The imaginative and infrequently seen fantastical Far Eastern setting may be enough for some readers willing to overlook the tired story arc. But may longtime fantasy fans will find themselves reading the same-old-same-old, only in a world away from medieval Europe.

This novel is also available on audiobook. The production is serviceable but not fantastic. I applaud the producers for using two narrators, one for each viewpoint character (i.e. Takeo and his lady love) which goes a long way toward helping the busy audiobook reader keep the story straight. But I found the female narrator rather stilted at times, and sometimes the readings were too quiet, which cannot be remedied when my mp3 player is already at max volume.

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S.K. Slevinski is senior editor for ARWZ Literary Magazine and a long time reader of alternative reality fiction. She is currently a graduate student, specializing in folklore.