Series: Tales of the Otori
Release Date: 2004
The young warrior Otori Takeo has been told by the blind prophetess, ‘Your lands will stretch from sea to sea. But peace comes at the price of bloodshed. Four battles to win and one to lose.’
Takeo’s passion for Kaede has made him powerful enemies, and he faces a war to secure her future and his own. He has legendary magical skills and is the deadliest assassin of the secret Tribe, but now he must lead an army into combat that will be savage and merciless. Can his small force of untrained men defeat the warriors of might warlords? Takeo rides into battle hoping there is truth in the last words of the prophecy: ‘You yourself are safe from death, except at the hands of your own son.’
If the first book was Takeo and Kaede being played by others, and the second was them making their own decisions, this book is all about the consequences of those actions.
Their biggest (and most rash) decision at the end of the last book was their marriage to each other, and we quickly see that the anger this has roused in their rivals will be one of the main conflicts of the book. Kaede’s dealings with her neighbour, Lord Fujwara come around to bite her. He is the true villain of the trilogy: unsettling, cruel and yet all too human and familiar – everything, perhaps, Iida should have been in the first book.
Takeo is now led by the prophecy, interpreting events in his life through her words. He recognises as well that is just interpretation: the prophecy isn’t really set as a concrete thing that is going to happen, more one that he can manipulate events to fit around. He decides a short skirmish with bandits is a battle, and that’s one checked off his ‘battles to win’ list. His vendetta against the Tribe also shows the ruthlessness he has developed throughout the series, executing many members in case they try to assassinate him (this book contained some of the more grizzly deaths, including someone biting off their own tongue and choking to death on their blood…)
There is a lot more action than the last book, as can be expected when there are five battles to go ahead (four to win and one to lose). The majority of these are satisfying (especially the one he loses, increasing the distance between himself and Kaede) but I felt the final battle – the one you’d expect to be the biggest and baddest – was surprisingly brief. The betrayal of Arai was all too expected and the battle was over before it really began, which seemed a little anticlimactic.
Overall I enjoy the way it ends the trilogy, but only because I know there is a sequel to go on to. The third book leaves the question of Takeo’s son open and I know I would not be satisfied not knowing whether his son eventually kills him or not. I’m not generally a fan of happy endings, but this one had just the right amount of bitter-sweetness to it: Kaede and Takeo are reunited but both scared by events and both have lost things very dear to them. But amidst that tragedy there is the the feeling of a fresh start just around the corner, which promises a better life for them from now on.
As an overall note on the trilogy, I have to say that, during this read, I sometimes found the prose somewhat strange. As writers, we are constantly being told the golden rule ‘show don’t tell’ but this book seems to go against that entirely. That’s not to say there isn’t beautiful descriptions and interesting little details, as all books are full of them, but a lot of it does seem to be telling all the time rather than showing. I wouldn’t let that put you off though: it’s a beautiful, involving series and well worth the reading time.