75 points, 4 stars
In his black-walled fortress at Inuyama, the warlord Iida Sadamu surveys his famous nightingale floor. Constructed with exquisite skill, it sings at the tread of each human foot. No assassin can cross it unheard.
The youth Takeo has been brought up in a remote mountain village among the Hidden, a reclusive and spiritual people who have taught him only the ways of peace. But unbeknownst to him, his father was a celebrated assassin and a member of the Tribe, an ancient network of families with extraordinary, preternatural skills. When Takeo’s village is pillaged, he is rescued and adopted by the mysterious Lord Otori Shigeru. Under the tutelage of Shigeru, he learns that he too possesses the skills of the Tribe. And, with this knowledge, he embarks on a journey that will lead him across the famed nightingale floor—and to his own unimaginable destiny…
“But just as the river is always at the door, so is the world always outside. And it is in the world that we have to live.”
I knew going into Across the Nightingale Floor that this was not exactly what I typically read. There are so many things about this series that I typically don’t do. For one, it is historical, and Japanese, and I don’t typically touch either in fiction. Then this was just very light on the fantasy, which I only do rarely. However…
I liked it.
It was a very, very slow story while also being a very quick book to read. It just takes its time doing what it wants to do. It isn’t in a hurry. And it goes pretty much the way I expected it to at every step of the journey. I really wasn’t surprised by anything that happened.
The main character is a bit of a paradoxical character. He grew up in a pacifist household that subscribes to a religion that is akin to a branch of Catholicism. His father was an assassin, from a different group of humans, the Kikuta, who have genetic differences that imbue a fantasy quality to the work and allow them become masterful killers. The Kikuta want Takeo, because he is theirs. And then he becomes the adopted son of a Feudal Lord who wants to use Takeo to fuel his own revenge. Yet Takeo is still pretty kind-hearted throughout.
There is a secondary character, Kaede, who is a prisoner of one of the feudal lords, to secure her father’s goodwill. She is a woman in a man’s world, and she chafes at the box they try and place her in. She ends up being a curse for those trying to marry her, as everyone who tries ends up dead. So she is used as a weapon.
It is a pretty simple tale of Feudal-era Japan, with warring tribes, an absent Emperor, and a bunch of terrible people wanting to be the ruler of all. A lot is centered on honor and being a warrior. And a bit of love at first sight. If that isn’t a winning combination, I don’t know what is.
Whether this is historical fantasy or alt-history with a fantasy bent, I couldn’t tell you. I just don’t know enough. What I do know is there wasn’t a lot of fantasy at all. There was just enough to get it placed in fantasy genres. For the most part, it is historical, and it is Japanese. And it was well worth the read.