I finished Across the Nightingale Floor by Lian Hearn last week.
It was good, but light. For one thing, the author, who uses a pseudonym, claims she was trying to represent a fantasy world that was Japan-like without actually referring to the classes of people involved by their Japanese names and titles. So, while it was obvious that she was referring to ninja and samurai, she never used those terms, but instead used vague descriptions or descriptive words. To me, it seemed a little forced sometimes. Also, I felt as if the book was written for someone in about the 8th Grade. Of course, USA Today is written at that level, so maybe I’m just biased towards the more well read.
In any case, those two small issues aside, it was a good book. The story focuses on an orphan who is taken in first by a great lord in exile or disgrace, depending on your point of view, and, later, by a clan of enigmatic mystics who are basically ninja. There are numerous plot twists of varying degree, though none are too surprising to the well-read. The themes are classically Japanese and the author is unabashedly enamored with Japanese culture. In fact, on her website, she cites a trip to Japan as the inspiration for the novel. Well, series, actually. This is the first book in the Tales of the Otori series and the last has just recently been published.
As a fantasy book goes, Across the Nightingale Floor is rather similar to any of a number of others, but as a novel about a fantasy Japan, which is not historical fiction, it stands virtually alone. In fact, I haven’t seen a book similar since I read Barry Hughart’s Bridge of Birds, which is about an Ancient China that never really was. And, though I have to admit Lian Hearn could have done more with her work, I still liked the first book enough to buy, and read, the rest of the series.