Across the Nightingale Floor
is a 2002 historical fantasy novel by English author, Gillian Rubinstein, writing under the pen name Lian Hearn. It is the first installment of the Tales of the Otori
series, which is set in a fictional world based on feudal Japan. Focusing on a young warrior named Takeo, as he seeks to avenge his adoptive father’s murder and escape the legacy of his biological father, the narrative expands to encompass a massive power struggle involving dozens of rival clans. Exploring themes of legacy, the pressures of family, and whether vengeance can truly bring peace, Across the Nightingale Floor
received overwhelmingly positive reviews and became an international bestseller. It was followed by two more installments in the trilogy, Grass for His Pillow
(2003) and Brilliance of the Moon
Another novel, taking place sixteen years later, The Harsh Cry of the Heron,
was released in 2006, and a prequel, titled Heaven’s Net is Wide,
followed in 2007. Across the Nightingale Floor
won the 2004 Deutscher Jugendliterturpreis Award for outstanding children’s literature in Germany.Across the Nightingale Floor
begins as sixteen-year-old Tomasu, who was brn into a persecuted religious sect called The Hidden, returns from walking in the mountains to find that his family has been slaughtered. While trying to escape, he steals the horse of Iida Sadamu, the ruthless leader of the military clan the Tohan. Iida and his men pursue Tomasu, but the boy is rescued by Lord Shigeru, of the Otori sect. Tomasu becomes Shigeru’s ward, and later his adopted son, and is renamed Takeo to hide his Hidden heritage. After being rescued by Lord Shigeru,Takeo becomes sick on the road and briefly loses his voice, but this has the effect of heightening his hearing. On their way to Shigeru’s home, they meet Maruyama Naomi at an inn. She is a powerful leader from the Seishuu sect, and has been fighting the Tohan’s attacks on the Hidden. Takeo overhears Lady Maruyama and Shigeru express their love for each other that night. When they reach Shigeru’s home in Hagi, Takeo is taken in by an elderly maid named Chiyo, and Shigeru’s former mentor Ichiro. He is accepted by the household. Shigeru becomes betrothed to Shirakawa Kaede as part of the arrangement for Takeo’s adoption. She is viewed by many as the most beautiful maiden in the Three Counties that make up their realm. However, not everyone is happy to have Takeo there, and the sons of Shigeru’s uncles view him as a threat. They frequesntlyattempt to kill him during sword training.
Soon, Takeo is introduced to Muto Kenji, the master of the Muto clan, who is known as “The Fox”. He knew Takeo's father, whom he describes as the most skilled assassin of the Kikuta, the most prominent family of the Tribe. Takeo is amazed by this, and convinces Kenji to start training him in the ways of the Tribe. After living with Shigeru for a few months, Takeo decides to sneak out of the house and explore neighboring Hagi. There, he meets a merchant whose life he saved when he was one of the Hidden. The merchant immediately recognizes him and refers to him by his original name. Nervous, Takeo denies that it is his name and flees before his secret can be exposed. He returns home, and Shigeru begins preparing him for their trip to Tsuwano, the home of Shigeru’s future bride, Shirakawa Kaede. Arriving in Tsuwano, they meet Kaede, who had been held hostage by the Noguchi since she was a child. Forced to sleep in the maid’s quarters, she lived under constant threat of sexual assault from her cruel guards. A guard attempted to rape her shortly before she made it to Tsuwano, but now she is under the protection of Lady Maruyama. Both Shigeru and Marumaya are resigned to the arranged marriage for political reasons, despite their love for each other. Kaede is accompanied by Kenji’s niece, Shizuka, who is descended from both the Muto and Kikuta clans.
Takeo and Kaede immediately forge a connection when they are introduced. They visit the shrine at Terayama together, during the Festival of the Dead, to pay tribute to Shigeru’s brothers. This allows Shigeru to discuss war plans with the Abbott: Lord Arai’s army is coming from the west, and Shigeru plans for Takeo to assassinate Iida that night. However, the Tribe has other plans. Believing Takeo to be too important to risk his life in war, and not wanting to risk someone worse than Iida taking his place, they abduct Takeo. Shigeru’s forces are soon overwhelmed, and Shigeru is crucified on the castle wall. Lady Marumaya and her daughter try to escape, but are drowned in the attempt. Takeo cuts a deal with the traitors in the Tribe, agreeing to join them in exchange for permission to reclaim Shigeru’s body. Takeo sneaks into the castle at night and rescues his adoptive father. Shigeru, dying from his injuries, asks Takeo to bury him next to his brothers, and Takeo kills him to end his pain. Takeo then finds Kaede with the body of Iida, whom she killed when he attempted to rape her. They make love for the first time before Takeo returns to battle and kills the other Tohan commanders. Takeo then honors his promise, leaving Kaede in the care of Shizuka and leaving with the Tribe to complete his training.
Gillian Rubinstein is an English-born author currently living in Australia, who is best known for her Tales of the Otori
series written under the pseudonym Lian Hearn. The author of thirty books, eight plays, and numerous short stories and articles, she is primarily the author of children’s books and first attained success with her 1986 debut Space Demons.