Book review

Across the Nightingale Floor by Lian Hearn (2002)

Do you know what a nightingale floor is?

It's a floor that sings when you walk across it:

'I've heard Lord Iida has ordered a floor to be made that sings like a nightingale,' he said. 'But who needs to make a floor sing like a bird when it already has its own song?'
'What's the purpose of such a floor?' Lord Shigeru asked, seemingly idly.
'He's afraid of assassination. It's one more piece of protection. No one can cross the floor without it starting to chirp.'

Lord Iida Sadamu is right to fear assassination. Takeo is planning to do it, provided no one else gets to Lord Iida first.

It's clear enough why Lord Iida should have enemies - he's a ruthless warlord who thinks nothing of attacking defenceless villages and murdering all the inhabitants, in order to strengthen his power base.

And why should Takeo be one of those implacable enemies of Lord Iida? Because he was brought up in just such a village, learning only the ways of peace and spirituality, until Lord Iida and his men attacked.

Takeo escaped the sacking of his village by the merest wisp of good fortune. As he ran for his life into the mountains, the Lord Otori Shigeru appeared on the path, as if from nowhere, and smote his attackers with the snake sword, Jato.

The Lord Otori Shigeru takes Takeo back to his home in Hagi, and is so generous as to make plans to adopt Takeo. But it is some time before Takeo really begins to understand why he plans the adoption, and even longer before he understands why Otori Shigeru should be so set upon the assassination of Lord Iida.

It's a fierce and deadly story of warrior clans.

But there is more, even, because Takeo discovers more about himself in the house of Otori Shigeru than he would ever have learned in that remote mountain village that he used to call home. Takeo, it seems, is of the Tribe, inheriting supernatural skills from the father that he never knew. And the Tribe is keen to claim their own ...

Takeo must make his choices.

Here is a superbly written story of breathtaking suspense with love, loyalty and honour, treachery and revenge. Straight into my list of Top Ten Best Books Ever. Highly recommended!

What can I read next?

Lucky for us! Lian Hearn has planned more Tales of the Otori:

  • Across the Nightingale Floor
  • Grass For His Pillow (not yet published)
  • Brilliance of the Moon (not yet published)

If you're tough enough for all that treachery and ruthless swordplay, I think you would really enjoy this reworking of a Viking Saga by Melvin Burgess:

And here's another one for older readers that deals with loyalty and treachery, by Susan Price:

You might also like to look at this one by Lynne Reid Banks:

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