I’m aware that there are some websites that are supposed to help with such things but I’ve had no luck on them yet, and thought I’d try some bookish people instead.
I’m trying to remember a book I read when I was probably in my early teens (about 10 years ago, although that’s not to say it was published around them). I obviously don’t know the title or author, otherwise it’d be easy to find these days.
So, what I remember is:
Here are my Top 5 opening lines from some of my favourite novels.
You would not think, to look at me, that I was a dangerous alien.
Maggie Prince, Memoirs of a Dangerous Alien
It is said, in Imardin, that the wind has a soul, and that it wails through the narrow city streets because it is grieved by what it finds there.
Trudi Canavan, The Magician’s Guild
There was once a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.
C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
When the Dead Man got Rachel I was sitting in the back of a wrecked Mercedes wondering if the rain was going to stop.
Kevin Brooks, The Road of the Dead
The first thing you find out when yer dog learns to talk is that dogs don’t got nothing much to say.
Patrick Ness, The Knife of Never Letting Go
Let me know what you think should be on the list!
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.
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.
Today J. R. R. Tolkien would have been 123 (beating Bilbo, who celebrates his 111th birthday at the beginning of Lord of the Rings).
While growing up, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings were the only books my dad ever read, and I was honoured when he leant me his very battered copy of The Hobbit when I was 11, which looked a little like this (only more creased and worn):
And inside was an even more beautiful message (I won’t embarrass him by writing the more soppy parts, but the beginning is lovely):
I like old books. Simply because they have a history. I like to wonder who over the years has held it, flicked through its pages, who loved and cared for it, or if it just got forgotten, left on a shelf somewhere.
There is something wonderful about an old book. Old messages scribbled on covers capture my imagination the most. For me the book becomes more personal. A token of love and adoration that continues being long after the person who wrote it. It becomes a physical manifestation of an emotion frozen in time.
And so, that is what I am doing here.
I hope this new book becomes an old book.
It’s only had a couple of reads and still looks pretty new, but this book is on its way to becoming an old one, with it’s scrawled message inside preserved for whoever owns it after me.
So today I took part in my first ever twitter chat: #ukyachat 2015, by the lovely Lucy Powrie.
It was great to chat with follow YA readers and get some suggestions on what to read in 2015 – I’ve been a little stuck in the past with my books for a while and, much as I love my comfy old ones, I need to get out there and try something new!
These books will now be on my list for reading in 2015:
The Art of Being Normal (Lisa Williamson)
The Sin Eater’s Daughter (Melinda Salisbury)
The Chronicles of Prydain (Lloyd Alexander)
Dark is Rising sequence (Susan Cooper)
Vendetta (Catherine Doyle)
Read Me Like a Book (Liz Kessler)
The Boy Who Drew the Future (Rhian Ivory)
I’ve also resolved to try and read more UK authors, something I started with the British Books Challenge. While composing my lists of books to read, I realised how many books I have aren’t by UK authors and have decided to mix it up a bit this year.
I’d also like to try and shop locally more: being a poor graduate I often just slip on to Amazon and order cheap books, but I’d really like to find more independent bookshops and support authors that way.
Big thanks to everyone who talked to me in the chat, it’s really great to be joining such a friendly community!
Series: Tales of the Otori
Release Date: April 2nd 2002
Takeo is the only survivor when a brutal massacre wipes out his village. That day he cheats death, but his life will never be his own again.
Rescued, then adopted, by the mysterious Lord Otori Shigeru, Takeo starts a new life as heir to the Otori clan. But a sinister organisation called The Tribe claims him as their own and has dark plans for his future. For Takeo has incredible magical powers – he can make himself invisible, he can be in two places at once, he hears what other people cannot. These skills make him the perfect assassin – a deadly weapon for The Tribe.
But before Takeo will pledge his life to them he must make a dangerous journey of revenge. There is no place for the passion of first love – but when Takeo meets the beautiful, forbidden Kaede, he knows that he can never give her up…
Tales of the Otori is definitely up there with my top YA trilogies (which is saying a lot as I love trilogies).
This first book plunges you deep into the world of tribal Japan (although not mentioned by name, all the clues are there) and tells a story of love, honour and revenge.
Re-reading it as an adult, I’ll admit I struggled a little with the main love story between Takeo and Kaede: it’s your classic Romeo and Juliet scenario, which I don’t usually go in for. Love at first sight just doesn’t do it for me and the love between the secondary characters of Shigeru and Naomi is much stronger.
While the love story may feel a little rushed and underdeveloped, the protagonists themselves really drive the story, despite the fact that they are both pawns in other people’s plots. While events may not unfold because of their actions, it is entertaining enough to see how they react and survive in the game they’ve been forced into.
I’m no expert on Japan or its history and culture and found the references to the landscape, tea ceremonies and religion enough to satisfy me, but someone with a bit more knowledge on the subject may find it a bit sparse and the allusions irritating: we know the Tribe are the book’s ninjas and the Hidden are the Christians, but it’ll never been mentioned by name. I’m happy to be hinted at but others may not be.
While the protagonists and their companions are compelling, the villains of the story are weaker. Iida plays little part in the story, aside from his introduction in the beginning and the climax at the end. His actions against the Hidden show his cruel nature but he’s too much of a distant villain, sitting in his castle and waiting for the action to come to him.
But to come back to my original point, this is a really engaging read, you’ll fall in love with the characters (even if you don’t quite fall in love with their love story) and you’ll definitely want to read the sequels and find out what happens next.
Check out Grass for His Pillow, the next in the series.
I might as well start off a New Year and a New Blog with a New Challenge.
Cue the British Books Challenge 2015.
For those who don’t know, the challenge is to read and review 12 books by British authors throughout 2015. If you’d like to sign up then just go here.
I haven’t really decided what books I’m going to read yet, but it sounded like a good challenge to support and get me started.
Brilliance of the Moon (Lian Hearn) – Last in the trilogy I started in 2014
Watersmeet (Rachel Cotterill)
The Land of Dragor: The Gift of Charms – (Julia Suzuki)
The Harsh Cry of the Heron – (Lian Hearn) – The sequel to the Tales of the Otori
Love Hurts – (Malorie Blackman and more)
It’s the End of the World As We Know It – (Saci Lloyd)
The Last Leaves Falling – (Sarah Benwell)
The Sin Eater’s Daughter (Melinda Salisbury)
The Drowning (Rachel Ward)
Water Born (Rachel Ward)
Frozen Charlotte (Alex Bell)
Unspeakable (Abbie Rushton)
A Monster Calls (Patrick Ness)
Hansel & Gretel (Neil Gaiman)
Sleepless (Lou Morgan)
James and the Giant Peach (Roald Dahl)
Say Her Name (James Dawson)
More Than This (Patrick Ness)
Only Ever Yours (Louise O’Neill)
The Yellow Wallpaper (Charlotte Perkins Gilman)
Flesh and Blood (Simon Cheshire)
Some golden oldies I’m aiming to read:
The Echorium Sequence (Katherine Roberts) – A trilogy, so that’s technically three books!
The Borrible Trilogy (Michael de Larrabeiti) – Yes, I’m a sucker for trilogies.
Pirates! (Celia Rees) – An old favourite I’m excited to rediscover.
The Sophie books (Dick King-Smith) – I loved these books so much when I was younger
And then for some newbies (for me, at least):
The Rest of Us Just Live Here (Patrick Ness) – I loved the Chaos Walking books so much.
Finding Jennifer Jones (Anne Cassidy) – Finally get to catch up on what’s happened since Looking for JJ.
Stardust (Neil Gaiman) – It’s been on my reading list since I got it Christmas 2013.
Hansel and Gretel (Neil Gaiman) – A Christmas present from 2015.
A Monster Calls (Patrick Ness) – Another Patrick Ness I got as Christmas present.
Witch Child (Celia Rees) – My sister just passed this down to me.
Any Malorie Blackman that I’ve not read. I know there’s a lot to catch up on since the Naughts and Crosses series and this seems like the ideal time to get round to it!
I shall leave it there for now, but I shall be sure to add to it when more spring to mind. Good luck to anyone else taking part, I look forward to the reviews!