The Barnes & Noble Review
The Harsh Cry of the Heron -- the much-anticipated conclusion to the bestselling Tales of the Otori saga (Across the Nightingale Floor, Grass for His Pillow, and Brilliance of the Moon) -- brings to a close Lian Hearn's epic fantasy chronicle of a feudal Japan replete with murder, myth, martial arts, and magic.
Sixteen years after the events of Brilliance of the Moon, Otori Takeo is sovereign ruler of the Three Countries, and the realm is finally experiencing peace and prosperity. Takeo and his wife, Kaede, have three beautiful daughters -- Shigeko and her younger twin sisters, Maya and Miki -- and Takeo is preparing his heir, Shigeko, for her eventual ascendancy. But threats abound as Takeo struggles to keep the Three Countries at peace: The Emperor is asking for his abdication, assassins are targeting his family, and a holy woman's mysterious prophecy involving Takeo's death from long ago might finally come to fruition.
Blending historical fiction and sword-and-sorcery fantasy with elements from Arthurian legend and Taoist philosophy, Hearn's Tales of the Otori is a beautiful and breathtaking saga. These multilayered, lovingly crafted novels will immerse the reader in a realm of extremes -- brutality and compassion, honor and disgrace, servitude and autonomy, etc. -- where actions (like the slight movement of a hand or the cry of a heron, for example) have a much deeper and sometimes contrary meaning. This novel, in particular, flows like timeless, thought-provoking poetry -- a truly enchanting literary experience. Paul Goat Allen
Australian writer Gillian Rubinstein, writing as Hearn, concludes her bestselling Otori fantasy epic (Across the Nightingale Floor, etc.) with another magical tale of life and death in feudal Japan. Thanks to his enlightened leadership, 15 years of peace and prosperity have passed since Otori Takeo united the Three Countries, but his enemies continue to plot their revenge-including the Tribe, a ninja-like group of assassins, and the duplicitous Lord Zenko, one of Takeo's retainers. Perhaps the greatest threat, however, is the prophecy of a holy woman that Takeo will die only at his son's hand; his only son, an unacknowledged bastard, is being raised by his sworn enemy Kikuta Akio, the head of a Tribe family. With his beautiful (and legitimate) daughter and heir Shigeko by his side, Takeo must navigate these treacherous shoals to save his lands and his legacy from destruction. Hearn seamlessly fuses fact and fantasy to create a sprawling, bewitching realm of magic. There's enough background in this fourth installment that a new reader will have no problem following along, and fans will be heartened to know that this "Last Tale" will be followed in 2007 by a prequel. (Sept.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
The peace after the long war proves not so peaceful in this surprise fourth installment of Tales of the Otori. Readers had already undergone much emotional turmoil by the end of Brilliance of the Moon (2004), Hearn's supposed conclusion to her epic saga about romantic and dynastic struggles in a country suspiciously like Japan but imbued with actual magic. Yet the series ended all too abruptly once victory had been achieved, making this lengthy coda most welcome. After uniting the long fractious Three Countries, Otori Takeo rules benevolently, as befits his upbringing among The Hidden, a persecuted religious group that practices a neo-Christian faith of kindness and generosity. Although Takeo has officially renounced these beliefs, many of his advisers find him altogether too humane for a strong ruler. Pax Otori has proved beneficial to most residents of the Three Countries, but some malcontents are trying to cause trouble. Particularly fractious are members of The Tribe, a dwindling race possessed of magical powers that finds its usually marketable skills of espionage and assassination less in demand now that Otori has banned torture and refused to handle potential rivals in the usual manner (by killing them). Plots brew from within, mostly fomented by embittered Tribe member Akio, while white foreigners brandishing firearms threaten the borders. Meanwhile, Takeo tries to juggle an impossible number of tasks, from raising his twin daughters (one of whom may have Tribe-like abilities) to limiting the power of foreigners eager to open up trade routes. Previously, the series built inexorably and carefully toward the final cataclysmic confrontation, but here, it all takes too long to getmoving. Only near the end of this overlong narrative do the gears begin to catch. Nonetheless, a good finish to the series that nicely sets the stage for a prequel, due in 2007.