Welcome back to our read of Across the Nightingale Floor by Lian Hearn. This Japanese inspired fantasy tells the story of loss and vengeance, of conspiracies and fate.
When last we left Takeo, he had been rescued from slaughter by Lord Shigeru, who now wishes to adopt him. Kaede, on the other hand, is a hostage of Lord Noguchi, to keep her family quiet and obedient. The one thing they have in common is a hatred for those who have ruined their lives, chief among them Iida, the fearsome warlord who seeks to subjugate the entire Middle Country under his rule.
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Lord Shigeru has Takeo educated in preparation for adopting him, but Takeo is not good at it. He mimics but nothing more. Then, one night, with his keen hearing, he catches an assassin attempting to enter the house. He wakes Shigeru with the first words he’s spoken in a long time. Together, they fight off the assassin.
Not long after, a man named Kenji arrives, and Takeo finds him dangerous and suspicious. He demands he wait outside the gate while he sees if Shigeru will allow him inside. However, the man slips in anyway. Apparently, Kenji and Shigeru are good friends. Kenji is also of the Tribe, a group of five ancient families who preserve the magic ways of old. Kenji determines that Takeo’s father was also of the Tribe, and when he lodged among the Hidden years before, decided to renounce the Tribe’s culture of murder and assassination. He was killed by a Tribesman not long after, and unbeknownst to the Tribe, left a son, Takeo.
Shigeru then allows Kenji to tutor Takeo in the ways of the Tribe, lessons Takeo is displeased about. Being raised among the HIdden gives him an aversion to taking life. But there is one man he knows he can kill: Iida, because Iida slaughtered his family and the Hidden. Then, one day, Takeo surprises Kenji by taking him down in a hold that, should he choose, would kill him. Kenji is naturally quite pleased.
Reader Comments: There’s so much in this chapter, yet everything is so linked that I felt it important to include it all in one summary. As I’ve indicated before, I enjoy the dichotomy Hearn sets up for Takeo. He is a pacifist by upbringing, yet an assassin by half-birthright and current training. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out.
Writer Comments: There are two significant moments in this chapter for Takeo as a character. First, when he speaks once again. Second, when he proves by reflex that he is indeed capable of killing. Such significant moments in a character’s journey require setup by the author. They must be believable. Hearn sets up his speaking again because she establishes his affection and loyalty to Shigeru. Naturally, breaking his protective silence is worth saving Shigeru’s life. Then, when he demonstrates his ability to learn to kill, it’s after he realizes that there is a man he can kill, Iida, the one who slaughtered all those he once loved. Set up significant points for characters. Make them make sense.
Kaede’s marriage is arranged to one of Lord Noguchi’s retainers, a dishonorable match and insult to her. But the man dies before the wedding, and Kaede gets a reputation for causing men’s deaths. Then another marriage is made for her to the Otori, one which Ida approves. She will marry Shigeru, and Lady Maruyama (the woman Shigeru is secretly in love with), as a close relative of Kaede’s, will escort her to the Otori, and then take her to Iida for the wedding. But when Lady Maruyama arrives to collect her and learns that Shigeru is the Otori lord who is supposed to marry her, she immediately takes a disliking to Kaede.
Reader Comments: Poor Kaede. She doesn’t deserve Maruyama’s hate. Though, I do understand why Maruyama hates her. From an earlier chapter, Shigeru had promised Maruyama that he would never marry unless it was her. To her, this must seem a deep betrayal. I wonder if, in the long run, Kaede will end up with Takeo. I imagine they could both fall in love with each other and be happy.
Writer Comments: The plot thickens. By now, Hearn is starting to weave threads together. She’s setting things up for the end of the book, though that end is still many chapters away. Still, she’s bringing Kaede and Shigeru, presumably Takeo too, into the same time and space. She’s bringing in Lady Maruyama and Iida. I assume that she’s setting up Shigeru and Takeo’s chance to kill Iida. She even brings the Hidden into Kaede’s awareness, thus uniting the divergent elements even further. A good writer weaves together all her threads to make a strong, colorful, and textured story. A great writer ensures that many connections link the threads of her tale.