The Top 5: Across the Nightingale Floor by Lian Hearn

I was sweating, but the sweat was turning cold on my forehead. I jumped across the ditch of the last terraced field and looked down to where my home had always been. The house was gone.

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Across the Nightingale Floor is the first in the Tales of the Otori series, which follows the story of Takeo, a boy on the brink of manhood who is rescued from the massacre that befalls his home among the peaceful tribe of the Hidden. Takeo accompanies his rescuer, Lord Otori Shigeru, to his home in the land of Hagi, far from anything Takeo has ever known. Across the Nightingale Floor is a beautifully told tale of family, love, and vengeance, set in a fictional realm which mirrors the customs, traditions and landscapes of feudal Japan.

As Takeo tries to understand his new place in the world, questioning both his knowledge of his past and his present loyalties, he meets Lady Shirakawa Kaede, who like him is a pawn in the power struggles of the clan lords. Kaede and Takeo fall desperately in love, and struggle thereafter with the knowledge that their destinies can never be their own.

Then she raised her eyes and looked at me for a moment. I felt she was like a person drowning in the river, and if I reached out my hand I would save her.

The first reason that I picked up this book was the stunning cover art, coupled with its intriguing title. It is not the kind of narrative that immediately comes to mind when you think of fantasy, being in equal or perhaps greater part a love story, but Across the Nightingale Floor weaves together its intriguing history and hints of the supernatural in an elegant and subtle manner. It is a novel which holds plenty of appeal for both adult and younger readers. The story does not shy away from more adult themes, but they are handled with tact and delicacy.

At the time when I first read this book, it was unlike anything else I had encountered. I was immediately sucked into this world, which was both so alien to me and yet so engaging. The mix of first and third person narrative works well to convey how this strange new world appears to Takeo, and also his place within the bigger picture that he cannot see. Originally envisaged as a trilogy, the Tales of the Otori series now contains four further novels; Grass for his Pillow, Brilliance of the Moon, The Harsh Cry of the Heron and prequel Heaven’s Net is Wide.

The sun would pass above the mountains, pulling the shadows of the cedars after it, until it descended again below the rim of the hills. So the world went, and humankind lived on it as best they could, between the darkness and the light.

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