That’s the question that Across the Nightingale Floor attempts to answer. The assassins in question belong to a small group of families collectively called the Tribe, and their abilities are inherited from their parents. The world isn’t, strictly speaking, Feudal Japan, but the parallels are obvious, and the author, Lian Hearn, admits in the afterword that the main characters came to him while visiting Japan.
The story he weaves is one of political intrigue, conflicting loyalties — though these are probably explored more in the second book, which I don’t have yet — and clan feuds. The characters are richly drawn, and you really care about what happens to them, especially the two main characters, but also to some of the secondary characters.
Somewhat unusually, the viewpoint switches from the first-person for one of the main characters, to third-person for the other, and then back again. However, the net effect is to make it feel like one of the characters is telling the story, and also relating the story of the other at the same time, which is, as I said, unusual, but it works pretty well.
Personally, for a long time now I have been a fan of at least some of the ideas embodied in Japanese culture, particularly their concept of honor. This book — and presumably the entire trilogy — explores what happens when your honor pulls you in two directions and once. Does Takeo (the male main character) follow the desires of his adoptive father and take up the mantle of leadership, or does he follow the path of the Tribe which his biological father belonged to, but renounced? Again, I am sure this will be explored more fully in the latter two books, but this book does a very good job of setting up the dilemma and explaining why Takeo would wish to follow both paths, and why the paths are mutually exclusive.
If you like assassins with extraordinary abilities — including the one the book hints at, walking silently across a “nightingale floor,” which is a floor designed to make noise when walked on, as a form of alarm; if you like stories about Japan or Oriental cultures, or if you just like a darned good read about conflicting loyalties, give Across the Nightingale Floor a shot.
Filed under: Reviews