The Otori trilogy smashes its way to a conclusion.
Previously (Across the Nightingale Floor, 2002; Grass for His Pillow, 2003), the harsh beauty of the pseudo-Japan that Hearn had created allowed readers to think that something kinder might flower there, nurtured by the star-struck love between the ethereal beauty Kaede and Otori heir Takeo. But this time out, human nature rears its petty head and the results aren’t pretty. The war that was threatened after Takeo’s killing of the oppressive Lord Iida has finally been unleashed across the land, and Takeo is mustering a small, determined army to fight it—barely after Takeo and Kaede have stopped saying their wedding vows. It seems that everyone is gunning for Takeo: the rest of Iida’s Tohan clan, as well as an alliance of families from the east, and the mythical Tribe (a scattered people who sell their near-magical, ninja-like skills to the highest bidders and think their kin Takeo a traitor). It doesn’t take long for Takeo to leave behind the last bit of humanity left in him from Nightingale, when he was a foundling of the Hidden, the kindly Christian-like cult ferociously hated throughout the land. Here, Takeo appears to have become just another cruel warlord, torturing enemies for information and meting out cruel deaths as examples to others. This shift in personality gives the book a more mournful tone and that tempers its surging battle scenes and even dulls its romantic leanings. Hearn makes the parallels between her world and real-life Japan more obvious here—there are more references to a “mainland” as well as pale-skinned “barbarians” with strange, powerful new weapons—a device that works well with the book’s increased sense of realism. There is heroism, to be sure, and many a noble speech, but there are also a sadness and an acknowledgement of human folly that raise Hearn’s writing far above where it’s been before.
Lyric fantasy with a rare sense of the tragic.