[Book Review] Across the Nightingale Floor – Lian Hearn

Title: Across the Nightingale Floor
Author: Lian Hearn
Published by: Riverhead Books
Publication date: 1st August 2002
Genre: Fantasy
Pages: 304
Format: Hardback
Source: Private Collection
Series: Tales of the Otori

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Set in a mythical, feudal, Japanese land, a world both beautiful and cruel, the intense love story of two young people takes place against a background of warring clans, secret alliances, high honour and lightning swordplay.

In his palace at Inuyama, Lord Iida Sadamu, warlord of the Tohan clan, surveys his famous nightingale floor. Its surface sings at the tread of every human foot, and no assassin can cross it. But sixteen-year-old Otori Takeo, his family murdered by Iida’s warriors, has the magical skills of the Tribe – preternatural hearing, invisibility, a second self – that enable him to enter the lair of the Tohan. He has love in his heart and death at his fingertips . . .


Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

I picked this book up from a large church booksale while staying with my parents this summer. Judged it completely by the cover!

Across the Nightingale Floor is the first book in the Tales of the Otori series by Lian Hearn. Young Takeo was brought up in a small, mountain village knowing only peace following the beliefs of a forbidden religion. His home is attacked by Warlord Sadamu of the Tohan clan and he narrowly escapes, rescued and adopted by Lord Otori Shigeru; where he learns to lead a completely different life.

Across the Nightingale Floor offers alternating chapters from the perspectives of two characters, Takeo Otori and Lady Kaede. Takeo is rescued by Lord Otori and is adopted into his way of life. Lady Kaede is being held as a political captive by Lord Shizuka, ally to Lord Sadamu, where she is to be married off to create alliances between rivalling houses.

This book had a lot of promise. I was really engaged with the first section of the book where Takeo is getting used tot he idea of his new life and settling in with the Otori Clan. We’re told of his differences to the rest of the majority of humanity early on and seeing him learning about these differences that make him exceptional are a real high point of the novel. It gives him conflicted loyalties between the man that rescued him and the mysterious tribe where he inherits his gifts; being a magical ninja with exceptional hearing. Lady Kaede is passed from pillar to post, promised to a couple of men who meet their unfortunate ends before they can marry, earning her the curse of death in the eyes of the fish-wife, gossiping population.

Takeo is training to cross a specially made floor in silence, using his new found skills, so that he can assassinate the man that murdered his family. Then, the inevitable happened. The two main characters meet. It’s a case of love at first sight. This aspect of the book is really, really weak. The two suffer from a devastatingly bad Romeo and Juliet plot that doesn’t have any believable traction; one minute Takeo is plotting revenge alongside his adoptive father, the next he is pining over a lost love that he has only seen in passing. From her own perspective, Lady Kaede would rather kill herself than live without Takeo in her life. I understand that these two are both traumatised teenagers, but the whole thing felt completely over sung and unbelievable. Whereas Lord Otori has his own relationship issues with Lady Shirakawa, which was much more engaging, believable and heart-wrenching.

There is a far-eastern aesthetic to the entire novel, from the characters names to the culture in which they partake. It’s clear that Hearn has taken inspiration from Japanese culture for this novel – in the mannerisms that the characters have adopted, the tea-ceremonies, monks, religions and respectful bowing. Being no expert on this culture, I cannot say if it was accurate or not, but considering the story is fantasy based too, I didn’t put to much faith in it. But, I think my lack of knowledge worked in my favour. Anyone with a deeper knowledge of the country and its history may be able to pick out inaccuracies that lead down the path of frustration.

I found everything in this book very hard to connect to. The characters came across as pretty flat and one dimensional, the world-building didn’t really go deep enough for me and everything was presented as a bit too convenient. The abilities that Takeo has aren’t ever explored other than it being magical ninja inherited blood and the romance was ‘at first sight.’ I didn’t care enough about them as individuals, their motivations were find until they met one another, when everything really fell apart.

The large picture of the book was Takeo getting revenge on Lord Sadamu for murdering his family. He becomes conflicted when the Tribe becomes involved and remains steadfastly loyal to the man who saved him. The Kaede comes along and it all goes out the window. A lot of events happen and the end of the book drove me completely barmy!
Spoiler Alert
I felt completely robbed of a good ending, as rather than Takeo getting his entire book plotted revenge, Kaede kills Sadamu as he attempts to rape her. Takeo walks in, finds Lord Sadamu already dead and the two unrealistic love birds end up having sex next to the corpse of the man that killed his family – while the rest of the castle is still being fought over.

Everything felt flat and pointless after that.


A novel that held a lot of promise but didn’t live up to it. Flat characters, insta-love romance and lacking in and sense of depth. I won’t be picking up the rest of the series if I can help it!

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One response to “[Book Review] Across the Nightingale Floor – Lian Hearn”

  1. When I read this back in ’05 I really enjoyed it. It probably helped that it had a different cover:

    I know we talked about this yesterday, but I really wouldn’t recommend the others to you know after having read this review. Save yourself the headache 😀


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