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Samit Basu

By Lian Hearn
Picador, London, 2004 & 2005, GBP 3.95 each

VOLUME XXIX NUMBER 11 November 2005

T he Tales of the Otori Trilogy, beginning with the widely acclaimed Across the Nightingale Floor (2002) transported rea-ders across the world to an imaginary medieval Japan torn apart by political intrigue and natural disasters; a world of fierce loyalties, superstition, honour codes and high art. Grass for his Pillow and Brilliance of the Moon, the second and third tales in the Otori saga, follow the progress of two young lovers battling a refined, brutal feudal system, an avenging clan of assassins and fate itself to win power, glory and a life together.   Lian Hearn is a pseudonym chosen by Gillian Rubenstein, a British writer who moved to Australia in the 70s. The name is in honour of Lafcadio Hearn, an American writer whose love for Japan led him to change nationalities. Before the Otori series,  Rubenstein had already written 35 successful children’s stories, and part of the reason for the pseudonym was that she wanted to avoid being called the next J.K. Rowling. She found it impossible to evade the spotlight, though, because the books did spectacularly well and the movie rights have been picked up by Hollwood mega-studio Universal.   Across the Nightingale Floor told the story of Tomasu, a village boy adopted by Lord Otori Shigeru, whose loyalties were as mixed as his blood – he was born among villagers who belonged to the Hidden, a secret religion that preached the equality of all men, but his father was of the Tribe, a mysterious, dangerous cult of assassins who lived by the sword and dabbled in magic. And he was Otori by adoption, inducted into the rigid feudal hierarchy of medieval Japan and renamed Otori Takeo. He stood to gain great power as the heir to the Otori title, but his special powers marked him out as a member of the Tribe – and the Tribe did not let go of its members easily.   In Grass for his Pillow, Takeo is kidnapped by the Tribe and taught ancient martial-arts skills. But he soon discovers the Tribesmen are plotting to destroy him; all they want from him is a son who will inherit his abilities. He escapes the Tribe and is sentenced to death as a result; as he defeats assassin after relentless assassin, he is led by a caste-less madman to a wise old woman who delivers a prophecy that will change his life: “Your lands will stretch from sea ...

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