Book Review: Grass for his Pillow (Lian Hearn)
Series: Tales of the Otori
Release Date: 2003
Takeo knows he will love the beautiful Kaede until death. But after one night together they are destined never to meet again.
The young warrior is torn between two futures. His life is pledged to the merciless Tribe, who need his amazing magical skills in their secret world of assassination. He is also heir to the powerful Otori clan. But if he tries to claim his birthright, the Tribe will kill him.
Kaede, alone in a distant land, fights her own powerful enemies, while Takeo must make his choice. Ahead of him lies a journey that will test him to the limits of his being. And reveal the truth about who he really is…
I always find the middle of a trilogy is where it falls down a little: the first one sets everything up, the last one rounds everything off and often the middle can seem like a tedious setting up of the pieces.
There is some element of this in Grass for his Pillow: the pace can feel a little slow, there’s a lot of talking and training but not a huge amount of action. Even so, the characters and their conflicts are compelling enough to make you fly through the book, ready for the sequel that ends it all with a bang/a lot of battles.
Takeo’s mixed heritage is a driving force in this book. His Tribe blood and promised allegiance to him takes him away from his life as an Otori lord and two of the most important things to him: revenge on those who betrayed his adopted father, Shigeru and his love, Kaede. If stays with the Tribe he will never be happy, but if he leaves them he’ll never be safe.
Kaede, makes an alliance with an mysterious neighbour that, although working in her favour, seems like a pact with the devil. She continues to be the book’s answer to a feminist, not acting or thinking as women were supposed to at the time, but it doesn’t feel like a modern thought shoved into a different time zone: she still struggles with the idea that she is not ‘normal’ by other people’s standards and worries her strength will make the powerful men around her want to crush her.
While the previous book, Across the Nightingale Floor shows Takeo and Kaede being controlled by those around them, this book allows them to make their own choices and then face the consequences their actions have. While they generally choose well for themselves, it is their passion for each other that leads them to rash decisions – like getting married without the clans permission – which may lead to disastrous consequences.
The pace is a little slow, perhaps reflecting the frustrations of the protagonists, who spend a lot of their time inside due to the harsh winter, and by the time the snow thaws both reader and characters are anxious for things to start moving: the final installment of the trilogy promises to deliver a lot.
Check out The Brilliance of the Moon, the next in the series.