Series: Tales of the Otori
Release Date: March 2006
Lord Otori Takeo and his consort Kaede have ruled for over sixteen years. The Three Countries are rich, peaceful and prosperous. The sacred birds, the houou, nest at Terayama and a fabled creature, the kirin, has appeared on their shores. Heaven seems to smile on them.
Yet their very success has attracted the attention of the distant Emperor and his general, the warlord Saga Hideki, who covet all the wealth of the Three Countries, and especially Takeo’s heir, his eldest daughter, Shigeko, now of marriageable age.
At the same time the violent acts and betrayals of the past will not lie buried. The renegade Tribe family, the Kikuta, seek revenge on Takeo for the murder of their leader; they have an eager ally in his brother-in-law Arai Zenko, who has never been able to forget or forgive his own father’s shameful death. No one escapes the Tribe forever.
Takeo has many other concerns, above all for his younger daughters Maya and Miki, whose strange talents lead them into the world of shadows and ghosts. And other secrets that cannot be hidden. Everything that he and Kaede have achieved is threatened.
Ooo I have been so conflicted during this reread. As a huge fan of the series, when this sequel to the original trilogy came out I devoured it. But it’s not as easy a read as the other books and it doesn’t have the ending that some fans might want. I’m not really a fan of a happy ending – I prefer the bitter sweet – but this one is almost soul crushing.
It’s a long book and weaves in many different plot threads – Takeo trying to control the Three Countries through peaceful means, the Kikuta still seeking to destroy Takeo, Kaede’s longing for a son, the twin daughters’ mysterious Tribe talents, the threat from Arai Zenko, and a ton more. While it all adds to create an intricate and complex plot, I feel some lines were not explored enough: the foreigners, for example, while important for the majority of the book (and who are, incidentally, travelling with Takeo’s long lost sister) disappear towards the end and play no part in the climax. For what felt like such a big plot thread, I would have liked more of a resolution with them.
Similarly I felt the twins storyline could have been developed more. Maya is featured a fair amount after she is possessed by a cat spirit but I felt her twin was neglected and I was very interested in how Maya’s cat spirit affected her. We only really saw her with her twin, which was a shame as I felt she deserved more plot of her own.
I’ve seen a lot of complaints about the ending but I find I can’t really agree. While it might seem strange to have the climatic ending revealed through one character telling another, it felt right to me. It was sobering, after all the action and worrying, to have the events related like that (and I also felt I couldn’t really have handled ‘living through them’ myself).
I struggled to get into the book at first as it does jump a lot between different plot lines and different characters but as the stakes were raised I found myself getting more and more involved. By the end I found myself resisting finishing as I knew what was coming and just didn’t want it to end like that. It’s so hard, after loving these characters for three previous books and seeing their struggle for peace, to have it all crumble around them. The ending left me sad and I think some people might prefer to end with the previous book (Brilliance of the Moon) so that Takeo and Kaede can stay happy.
But what I love about this book is how real it feels. There is no happy ever after: we see the natural continuation of their story after their happy ending and its just as harsh as their previous journey. But that’s life. With Shigeko inheriting the Three Countries at the end, it felt like I could read on with their history forever, following her trials and downfall and the same with her children, and so on. I feel that’s a tribute to the amazing world the author has created here.
In summary, if you’re a fan of happily ever after then maybe stick with the trilogy, but if you think you can take the heartache, this is definitely worth a read.