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Across the Nightingale Floor: The Sword of the Warrior


Lian Hearn


Firebird Fantasy (Penguin Group (USA) Inc.)

Release Date:


  Fantasy History / Feudal Japan with magic / Murder, ninjas, orphan boy & political mystery (Young Adult)  
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This is a small jewel of a book. When I say small, I mean literally. The book is 4.5 x 6 inches and only 20 pages long. This is a quick, but intense and engaging read, which hit the New York Times Notable Book list and was up for the Carnegie Medal for good reason.

Ms. Hearn's writing is quiet and intense, successfully invoking the sublimely reserved violence of feudal Japan that inspired the series. He does not presume to use actual Japanese history, but rather creates his own unique world with a distinctly Japanese flavor. Our story begins with a young boy named Tomasu who lives in the mountains with his small village. By describing the world in the first person view of Tomasu, Ms. Hearn quickly invokes the love a teenage boy has for trekking through the mountains on his own and the love he has for his mother, sisters and the ways of his peaceful village.

"I did not mind the idea of marriage to one of the girls I'd grown up with, and that summer I worked harder alongside [my Stepfather], ready to take my place among the men of the village. But every now and then I could not resist the lure of the mountain, and at the end of the day I slipped away, through the bamboo grove with its tall, smooth trunks and green slanting light, up the rocky path past the shrine of the mountain god..."

I quickly fell in love with the land, the people, and especially our main character. It was a painful shock when, in the first few pages, Tomasu returns from the mountain to find his village burned and everyone viciously slaughtered. Devastated, confused and panic-stricken, he runs away from the soldiers who see him, only to run into more in the woods. An unknown lord interrupts the soldier's "fun", killing them and rescuing the boy. On the lord's horse, the two escape. Tomasu tells him briefly what happened and then lapses into a silence that he keeps for half of the book. They journey to Lord Otori's home, where he gives the boy another name, Takeo. Instead of making him a servant in his home as the newly renamed Takeo expected, he decides to adopt the boy, and begins to have him tutored in reading, writing, and the skills necessary to a warrior lord.

At this point we meet our second main character, Kaede. Daughter of a powerful lord, she has been given at a very young age as a hostage to the overlord who ruined Takeo's village. Raised as a menial servant rather than a respected lord's daughter, she understands that she holds her family's honor in her hands, since the evil lord of Noguchi castle, "by possessing her, also possessed [her father's] loyalty, his alliance, and his inheritance" as she is his only heir.

Through various terrible circumstances, she survives and as her budding womanhood becomes too much of a temptation to the guards, is moved to more suitable quarters and told she will be married off in short order.

This is the set-up for the rest of this amazing, magnetic story. Any more, and I'd be giving away the whole plot. Let's just say it includes political intrigue, assassination attempts, ninja training, several thwarted loves, revenge, secret magical knowledge, and fiercely proved loyalties. Yes, I did say it was only twenty pages. Really. Twenty intense and powerful pages.

Oh, and a "nightingale floor" is a real thing a floor made to creak in every possible way, making it impossible for anyone to approach unnoticed, even trained assassins.

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