The Barnes & Noble Review
Grass for His Pillow, the sequel to Lian Hearn's amazing debut novel, Across the Nightingale Floor, sees the saga's two main characters -- the young lovers Takeo and Kaede -- begin to come to grips with the treacherous paths they must individually follow.
Takeo, the supernaturally gifted orphan rescued and raised as an assassin by Otori Shigeru in Book One, must now honor an old promise and live with the Tribe, a secret society of families with incredible powers and nefarious agendas. Although Takeo has Tribe blood flowing through his veins, the culture is alien to him, and he yearns to return to the "real world," not only to avenge the murder of Otori Shigeru but also to find the love of his life, Kaede Shirakawa, and marry her.
Kaede, meanwhile, has returned to her family lands -- after being held hostage for more than half her life -- to find her mother dead and her father deranged. As lone heir to a once-powerful realm, the ill-starred young woman must find a way to survive in a society where men irrefutably rule.
Hearn's first novel was a masterfully crafted saga, comparable to Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, and as poetic and profound as the Tao Te Ching. Grass for His Pillow is more of the same -- fantasy, intrigue, and romance on an epic scale -- played out on an awe-inspiring, surreal landscape. Paul Goat Allen
Lian Hearn's Grass for his Pillow is a welcome sequel to the deliciously readable Across the Nightingale Floor of last year. In this new volume, which is subtitled ''Tales of the Otori: Book 2,'' we find ourselves again transported to a medieval Japan of the imagination: a harsh land ruled by local warlords, an essentially static social order in which family ties bind tightly, a culture that mixes great refinement with unspeakable brutality.
The pseudonymous Hearn's second thrilling installment of her Tales of the Otori trilogy (after 2002's Across the Nightingale Floor) is once again set in a magic-haunted version of medieval Japan where no one wields unchallenged authority and no one is safe. The swirl of treacherous, shifting clan alliances threatens to overwhelm young lovers and aristocrats Takeo and Kaede. Separated throughout most of the action, the two must develop their talents while trying to maintain their integrity. Takeo possesses superhuman gifts such as the ability to become invisible, project a double image of himself and hear distant conversations; however, he must discipline his skills and control his impetuous temper. He also must work out his relationship with the Tribe, a treacherous secret organization of spies and assassins that saved his life but that may have murdered his father. Kaede, meanwhile, has to escape the powerless role of a woman if she is to protect herself and her family domain from predatory neighbors. Adept at creating vivid natural settings where the supernatural feels unusually plausible, Hearn catches fresh details of trees, birds, rivers and mountains. With quick, direct sentences like brushstrokes on a Japanese scroll, she suggests vast and mysterious landscapes full of both menace and wonder. Hearn shows that middle novels of trilogies don't have to simply fill space between an exciting opening and conclusion. (Aug. 11) Forecast: Hyped as the next J.K. Rowling, Hearn-in fact, Australian children's book author Gillian Rubinstein, who was born in England-disclosed her identity last year but has since kept a low profile. Her anonymity hasn't hurt, with rights to the trilogy sold to 20 countries and movie rights to Universal for an estimated $3.6 million. Don't expect the books to vie for the top of national bestseller charts, though, until the movie release. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Hearn's second installment in the Tales of the Otori series is as beautifully written as the first book, Across the Nightingale Floor (Riverhead Books/Penguin Putnam, 2002/VOYA August 2003). The lives of the two young lovers, Takeo and Kaede, take separate paths when Takeo leaves Kaede to fulfill his promise to the Tribe, a secret society of assassins and spies. Although not as exciting as the first book, alternating chapters delve into the psyches of the two young aristocrats as they seek to find their own place within a war-torn medieval Japan wrought with mystery, intrigue, and treachery. Kaede returns to find her family home in ruins and her father declining into madness. Knowing that she is the only one who can save their family's lands and inheritance, Kaede convinces him to teach her how to manage their property, an undertaking unheard of for a woman. Takeo initially fulfills his promise to the Tribe, but fights against their cruel training techniques. No longer able to continue as an assassin, Takeo uses his powers of invisibility to escape and return to the homeland of his adopted father, Otori Shigaru, and to find Kaede. After great pain and suffering, Takeo and Kaede are reunited. Hearn leaves the reader of the first book with a satisfying experience, but the book does not stand alone well. Nevertheless Hearn sets the stage beautifully for the next, which is sure to include both battlefield and love scenes as Takeo and Kaede join forces against the other warlords. VOYA CODES: 4Q 4P S A/YA (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Broad general YA appeal; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12; Adult-marketed book recommended for Young Adults). 2003, RiverheadBooks/Penguin Putnam, 320p., and $14 Trade pb. Ages 15 to Adult.
Ruth E. Cox
Adult/High School-Familiarity with Across the Nightingale Floor (Riverhead, 2002) is important to understanding this story, as Hearn gives no recap of events in that book. Takeo abandons his adopted family, the Otori, to be trained by the Tribe. He learns more about this mysterious clan and about his origins, including the secrets behind his father's conception and death. In the end, he must decide if he will remain true to the ruthless, amoral Tribe or follow his heart and avenge Otori Shigeru. Shirakawa Kaede also faces difficult choices. She resists the path tradition demands of her, and seizes opportunities and education usually only granted to males. She is determined to claim her inheritance and remain faithful to Takeo, no matter the cost. The novel suffers from middle-book syndrome in that just as the action starts to get exciting, readers are told to wait for book three. Rather than the adventure and intrigue of the previous title, Grass focuses more on the internal transformations of Takeo and Kaede during the winter of their separation. The wealth of detail in the pseudo-Japanese setting helps ground the story. Purchase where the first book is popular.-Susan Salpini, Fairfax County Public Schools, VA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
The lull after the storm as a gifted warrior and a princess with a destiny ready themselves for war. In Across the Nightingale Floor (2002), British author Hearn created for herself a largely mythical Japan. The clash of armies and igniting of passions that mixed with such impressive power in that first book, however, have been dampened in this moodier sequel. After killing the evil Lord Iida, young Takeo has withdrawn somewhat from the struggles of the world to learn the ways of the Tribe (a mysterious and skilled clan who make their living as assassins and spies) instead of taking the crown of his adopted father Lord Shigeru, killed at the end of the first installment. The compassionate Takeo has little stomach for being a hired killer and wants desperately to escape, though it’s unlikely the Tribe will let him do soalive. Given more attention this time is the story of Kaede, the princess who previously fell in love with Takeo and now pines away for him. Kaede has returned to her ancestral lands with a small band of followers, only to find that her father has lost most of his own power and land. In a most unladylike fashion, Kaede sets about restoring her family’s greatness, knowing that war is coming to fill the void left after the death of Lord Iida. To say that Grass for His Pillow is a disappointment after Nightingale would be to overstate the case, yet it’s hard to get past the feeling that, in true trilogy fashion, this follow-up is doing little more than setting the stage for the awesome meeting of swords and wills that seems sure to come in a final volume. As such, it makes for engaging, but less than essential, reading. A bridge between battles, not likely to thrillNightingale fans, though it may garner new readers on its own merits. Film rights to Universal