Friday, January 18, 2008

A hushed and elegant fantasy-thriller (Books - Across the Nightingale Floor by Lian Hearn)

I could hear the Tohan guards at the gate of the inn, and I knew there would be patrols in the streets. With one part of my mind I was aware that what I was doing was dangerous to the point of madness, but I could not help myself. Partly I wanted to test the skills Kenji had taught me before we got to Inuyama, but mostly I just wanted to silence the groans from the castle so that I could go to sleep.

I worked my way through the narrow streets, zigzagging towards the castle. A few houses still had lights behind the shutters, but most were already in darkness. I caught snatches of conversation as I went past: a man comforting a weeping woman, a child babbling as if in fever, a lullaby, a drunken argument. I came out onto the main road that led straight to the moat and the bridge. A canal ran alongside it, stocked against siege with carp. Mostly they slept, their scales shining faintly in the moonlight. Every now and then one would wake with a sudden flip and splash. I wondered if they dreamed.
This post along with this one and this one constitute my review.

Takeo, the hero of Across the Nightingale Floor, possesses several powers, one of which is a heightened sense of hearing. This provides opportunity for Lian Hearn to evoke the world of this fantasy in great detail, but in a fashion not usual for most fictional description - using sound much more than sight. There is something about this that creates an insulating hush about the world, as if it's just snowed heavily. This excerpt begins one of the more suspenseful moments in the book, so I won't ruin it with any further details, but when needed Hearn can write a suspense scene worthy of any spy thriller but it is juxtaposed against the unfamiliar (for me) world of the ancient East -spare panels painted with cranes in flight adorn the palace rooms, green tea is whisked in bowls and enjoyed in elegant ceramic cups. I found the well drawn characters, a story where even though the ultimate scene is obvious, Hearn still succeeds in surprising me with how the events unfold, and several moving love stories combined to make this an immensely satisfying read.

I'm looking forward to the second and third books of the Tales of the Otori trilogy, but until they arrive I have Imperium to finish up. I also want to read Oliver Sacks' latest book on the top of my TBR pile, and I'm seesawing back and forth between reading Darkmans which I've dipped into just a tiny bit, and Heat and Dust which, for one thing, is much shorter. Both Booker books. Even though classes haven't started up yet, I've been working in the lab pretty steadily since the beginning of January. I'm putting together my own experiment right now, and that entails reading a lot of journal articles. It's putting a crimp in my plans to have read five or six books in 2008 before classes begin but it is pretty exciting for me in its own right.

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