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Lian Hearn – Across The Nightingale Floor

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A rather epic historical flavoured with fantasy.

Publisher: Picador
Pages: 292
Type: Fiction
Age: Young Adult
ISBN: 0-330-49334-5
First Published: 2002
Date Reviewed: 9th February 2011
Rating: 4/5

Please note that I wrote most of this review over a year ago and that the tone is different due both to the shift in my writing style and the fact that I wanted to make reference to the book being a re-read. I suppose you could call it the ultimate reflective review.

On the day his village was burned to the ground, Tomasu was found by a Lord who named him Takeo and took him under his wing. Now Takeo joins Lord Otori in wanting revenge, and it appears Lord Otori chose well, for when Takeo stops speaking through shock, magical talents begin to show themselves. Takeo’s not sure what’s happening but he knows that with these talents he may be able to defeat the tyrant.

I first read this book around its publication date and absolutely loved it, I remember staying up all night to finish it; through this I came to discover how fantastic February mornings are as the sun rises, something I try to be awake to experience at least once a year to this day. Because of my reading speed at the time, the climax took me 45 minutes to get through and along with the historic subject I was in heaven. But reading it again I can see the flaws I didn’t see then.

The book is a brilliant example of Young Adult Asian historical fiction (albeit written by a white westerner), and it takes the reader to various different locations without any big changes in plot. The main characters are strong, the heroine especially, and the reader is able to get to know them well in a reasonably short period of time. The talents are supernatural, but they aren’t over the top, they are in the main the sorts of talents that we often think might be possible to develop, such as acute hearing.

But something that I didn’t notice the first time I read the book, due to my age, was the main character’s sexual promiscuity. The character actually appears to be a closet bisexual, but this isn’t the point, rather the point is that the romantic storyline revolves around an intensely passionate love and then a moment later the hero will go and sleep with someone else. For this reason I had a lot of trouble accepting the romance in the book whereas the first time I read it I thought it was amazingly romantic. All I felt was that he was disrespecting Kaede and their supposed love.

However apart from this the characters are exceptional. They are very much a product of their writing time, written before Young Adult books became what they are today, and are all the better for it. The plot switches between them, Takeo’s chapters being written in the first person, and Kaede’s in the third.

The book is not for the faint hearted. Hearn never shies away from descriptions of torture and death, and scenes of a sexual nature are relayed in their historical truthfulness. For fantasy this may be, but the Japanese historical aspects are rather factual.

The story has it all, the keen warrior, mystery and magic, adventure, political issues concerning leadership, and a sweeping romance. It shows why political alliances were important, but family more so, and how devastating the wrong choice could be. It displays the extreme prejudice towards women, the strong Kaede struggling to be accepted as her father’s heir and having to pass up being known as the heroine of a part of the plot that cannot be told here if the plot isn’t to be spoiled.

This is not your contemporary Young Adult novel, and should be recommended to young people with care. However that said, for its realism it is nothing more than true to historical life.

Across The Nightingale Floor is fiction for anyone who has seen a wuxia film and fallen in love, for the historian who wants to know more, and for the dreamer who believes. It is not flawless, even if the hero’s movements are, but it is a book that will hopefully stand the test of time.

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June 11, 2012, 7:49 pm

I received a boxset of this whole series as a gift an embarrassing number of Christmases ago – I really must get around to reading it! Thanks for reminding me of why I wanted to in the first place.


June 14, 2012, 11:00 am

Ana: Oh the rest of the series have been sitting on my shelf for years (well not literally, because I’ve only just got my shelves, but you know what I mean). It is a good series but can be difficult to get into.



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