The lovely Priya tagged me to do this a while back (check out her post here) and so here it is. The Bookblogger TMI Tag is an adapted version of Carrie Hope Fletcher’s (who I saw in December and is AMAZING) TMI tag on YouTube. So here is mine.
Series: Tales of the Otori
Release Date: March 2006
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.
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.
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.
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.