9781594480034 / 1594480036

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About the book:

Grass for His Pillow is the second volume of Lian Hern's "Tales of the Otori", a medieval Japanese fantasy saga that opened with the critically acclaimed Across the Nightingale Floor (2002). Towards the end of book one, our hero Takeo and his lady love Kaede--with help from both friends and enemies--brought down an unpleasant warlord. But regime change doesn't mean an automatic happy ending. Although honour demands that Takeo accept the title of his adoptive father Otori Shigeru and continue revenge on his behalf, he's claimed by the secretive Tribe who are his blood kin. The Tribe runs an underground network of spies and assassins, and Takeo himself has inherited the special powers of an assassin: fantasy talents which build on the legend of perfect Japanese warriors. The power of stealthy movement extends to periods of literal invisibility; uncanny speed becomes the ability to translocate to a "second self" and be momentarily in two places at once. Our man is harshly trained by the Tribe in readiness for a mission calculated to strain his new loyalty.

Meanwhile Kaede, pregnant by Takeo, returns to her dilapidated family estate and--without any magical talents to help her--determinedly begins to consolidate power and fight with all her intelligence, personality and beauty against the universal view that women are of no account except as wives. Her inheritance, she's told, will make her future husband a key player in the feudal power-struggle. So she thinks: "why should I not become a key player myself?"

The sense of place is strong and effective, as is the irony that in these times of unrest and upheaval the warrior class also cultivates appreciation of exquisite things. Elaborate preparation of tea, for example, or watching snowfall by lantern-light, or collecting ceramics too fine to be kept on display for profane eyes. This, Kaede fears, is how that lordly collector would like to keep her: beautifully wrapped and hidden away.

Inevitably Takeo breaks with the Tribe again and learns more about his other heritage as an Otori Lord. He also learns that there's a prophecy that he himself can buy peace for the troubled land after five battles: "four to win and one to lose". Compelling and evocative, Grass for His Pillow ends on a high note of suspense. The trilogy is to conclude with Brilliance of the Moon. --David Langford

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