Monday, October 23, 2006

Tales of the Otori

Over the last couple of years, I have been reading a wonderful series of novels set in a fictional feudal Japan. The Tales of the Otori, by Lian Hearn, are some of the most captivating novels I have ever read. I am not normally a fan of samurais, nor have I studied ancient Asian cultures since undergrad, yet I have found this series to be one of the most fascinating ever.

The series reads as follows:
Across the Nightengale Floor
Grass for His Pillow
The Brilliance of the Moon
The Harsh Cry of the Heron

Looking at Powell's website, it appears that these novels are categorized as "fantasy" and in that respect, they are similar to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. I often think the series would make incredible film. Anyway, the stories follow the fate of an orphaned boy, Takeo, with amazing powers who is rescued when his village is massacred and is adopted by a lord, Otori Shigeru. His new life with Lord Otori leads to the revelation that Takeo has the powers of the Tribe, a network of spies with invisibility, flight, and extraordinary senses.

As the novels progress Takeo is used as a spy, fights in battles,rises in power, and finds epic love with an extraordinary heiress. The inner lives of the characters are beautifully written. The landscapes are gorgeous, the plots are full of intrigue and adventure, the women are powerful - the whole series is just an exceptional treat.

The newest book, The Harsh Cry of the Heron, was just released and was a surprise for me because I thought the end of the third book was a tidy ending for the series. In the fourth novel, we re-join the story after about fifteen years, and watch the unraveling of all that Takeo has built. It is skillfully written and completes the examination of power cycles and the hazards of both war and peace.

Penguin has re-packaged these novels for the young adult audience in a split novel format - making the first three books into six "episodes" - clever marketing!

Try the first novel in the series soon. You won't regret it!

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