Today, we resume our read of Across the Nightingale Floor by Lian Hearn, where we immerse ourselves in an intricate and beautiful story of vengeance and intrigue, while at the same time learning from what Hearn does well as a writer.
To catch up or review previous parts of the read, click here.
A typhoon keeps the Otori, Lady Maruyama, and Kaede in place for several days. During that time, Takeo falls hard for Kaede, but neither of them dares reveal their feelings. There too, Shigeru finally confesses that he intended Takeo to kill Iida, but it is Takeo’s choice. Once the weather clears, they all travel into Tohan territory where they are despised, Takeo and Shigeru to assassinate a cruel dictator, Kaede to a wedding she dreads.
Reader Comments: This chapter was full of pleasing things. I was right about Kaede’s maid. She is of the Tribe. I’m glad to see Takeo returning Kaede’s feelings and pleased that he chooses loyalty to Shigeru and commits to killing Iida. It’s nice when my heroes act like I want them to.
Writer Comments: This chapter has a lot of romance, especially between Takeo and Kaede, yet they do not touch and barely speak a word to each other. Yet it works very well, and their desire is palpable. How does Hearn do this while going contrary to how romantic scenes usually play out in most genres? She employs quite skillfully the actual components of desire. The secret is not in physical action. Rather, it is in a keen awareness of the desired, an ability to notice and become completely occupied by them. It is in all the things desired yet denied. That lack of fulfillment is what creates desire. That flood of awareness is what creates the impression of attraction.
Four Hidden hang from the wall of the castle in another town Takeo and his party stop at. They hang to die slowly, eaten piece by piece by the crows. Their groans and thin screams disturb Takeo’s sleep, so he gets up. Using the skills he inherited from the Tribe, he sneaks to the castle and ends the Hiddens’ misery, two with poison, one with a garrote, and one with his bare hands.
Reader Comments: Even though Takeo achieves all his aims in this scene, it’s still tense because there is so much that could go wrong, and toward the end, his concentration and the darkness that conceals him begin to fade.
Writer Comments: This is a critical point for Takeo. It’s the first time he kills. Clearly, this ability is important as his goal is to kill Iida, but him doing it now makes it more believable that he could actually assassinate. Yet, at the same time, because Hearn combines him killing with his compassion to end the suffering of others, she ensures that he remains in character. Even when a character does something extraordinarily opposite from their usual behavior, ensure it still fits with the core self they’ve established.
As a result of the deaths, the town becomes unsettled by the time Shigeru and Takeo pay their respects to Shigeru’s brother’s grave and Shigeru manages a private conference with the monastery's abbot. Violence hums on the air, and Takeo and Shigeru fear a premature uprising.
Reader Comments: I’m very curious what was in that box that Shigeru gifted the abbot. I’m willing to bet that it plays a role in the climax of the story, especially since the priests are ready to rise up with Shigeru against the Tohan and Iida.
Writer Comments: There is a lot in this chapter that goes exactly as the characters intend, yet the tension remains high. Hearn achieves this by incorporating a constant threat of detection and the certainty that death will follow any discovery of the hero’s true objectives. The potential uprising in the town adds a further unsettling element as it means the whole plan to assassinate Iida could be destroyed in an instant. Even within success, include the likelihood of failure to keep tension high.