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Lian Hearn – Grass For His Pillow

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The issue is that the right path is considered the wrong one by many.

Publisher: Picador
Pages: 305
Type: Fiction
Age: Young Adult
ISBN: 0-3304-1526-3
First Published: 2003
Date Reviewed: 31st October 2011
Rating: 4.5/5

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.

Please note that as this is the second book in the series, there are likely to be a few spoilers of the first book in this review.

So Takeo chose the Tribe and forsook Kaede, but it’s not over yet. The Tribe are demanding things of him that he does not like and feels he cannot do, but how can he leave? For Kaede, the heartbreak is too much yet she knows she must remain strong and take what is hers.

You may remember me saying that I first read Across The Nightingale Floor, the debut of the series, when I was young, and that my recent re-reading led to revelations that I found uncomfortable. In my maturity I could now understand that Takeo was bisexual and that he had slept with the monk, but it wasn’t this that led me to lose some of my love for the book, it was rather that Takeo was so quick to sleep with someone else after having chosen a different path, no matter the gender of the person he slept with.

However sex was simply not viewed as it is today and thus anyone expecting Takeo to wait for Kaede should know that although his heart does, his body does not. In Grass For His Pillow he sets himself up for issues later on by the actions he takes. Though I agree with the book being true to history in such a way, I still cannot comprehend this man with an all-consuming love going and sleeping with others so easily. And while the book may reflect life back then, it jars with modern morality and does make Takeo difficult to accept. (I’m aware that I’m saying this even as someone who disagrees with projecting the present day onto history.)

Kaede is the complete opposite and a good comparison. For she is just as strong as Takeo, perhaps more so, and does very well despite the man-orientated society she lives in. It would be easy enough for Kaede in her growing power to have a fling with anyone she wants, yet she doesn’t.

Aside from this moral aspect however, the book is very good. There is some upset and Kaede is on occasion prone to fall ill when she recalls her passion for Takeo, which is a little over the top, but Hearn is setting up both of them for some amazing battles in the later books.

Many of the chapters are novellas in themselves, indeed if you’re a person who likes to read a chapter before bed you’ll have to abandon that idea here and go by page numbers. Hearn has her story well planned and does not let length hold her back. Despite this the book is an easy read and not particularly long. There are few dull patches. Where either of the characters are waiting for something to happen the author gives a reason and follows it through well and there is always Takeo’s narrative in his sections to keep the story interesting.

The reader learns a lot more about the Tribe in this book as well as some exciting genetic news, and Hearn pads out her world with information about the temples and the afterlife. The blend of history and fantasy becomes natural, so that when Takeo becomes invisible to escape an enemy it doesn’t wreak of convenience as it would in many other books. This reviewer was rather surprised when Kaede was visited by a goddess, as it is so easy to forget just how much fantasy plays a part.

The narrative is quick owing to Hearn’s equal division of the book between the two characters, and it all ends rather suddenly meaning that it’s good to have the next book to hand.

Although billed as a young adult book, the series will be better understood by those approaching the end of their teens. The adult content is at times shocking even to the older reader.

Grass For His Pillow is a book to set up the next one, yet it does not feel like a filler for the amount of effort Hearn has obviously given to it. The latter third more than makes up for the uncomfortable start, and many old characters return so that it feels very much like a book from the series rather than something new. Highly recommended.

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