TORN BETWEEN TWO PATHS, BLOOD BINDS HIM TO ONE AND VENGEANCE TO THE OTHER.
Lian Hearn returns to the Three Countries in this engaging sequel to Across The Nightingale Floor.
Grass For His Pillow
(Tales Of The Otori, Book 2)
Genre: Historical Fantasy, Young Adult
Format: Paperback, 320 Pages
Date: 5th April 2004 (First Published 2003)
Grass For His Pillow, the second book of the Tales Of The Otori series, sees author Lian Hearn take readers back to the Three Countries, the year after the events of book one, Across The Nightingale Floor, to continue the tale of revenge, love, betrayal, duty, treachery, honour and destiny.
The death of Lord Iida, and the subsequent defeat of the Tohan clan, has left a power vacuum in the Three Countries. A vacuum that Lord Arai Daiichi of the Seishuu clan intends to fill; but to achieve this, he must first cement alliances with teenage protagonists, Kaede and Takeo. Little does he suspect that both Kaede and Takeo may have plans of their own that may not sit well with him.
As Grass For His Pillow commences, returning protagonists Kaede and Takeo, remain separated by circumstances beyond their control, all the while holding on to their love for one another, and hoping against hope that someday they will be reunited. In the meantime, each must face up to very differing burdens and personal challenges.
In Kaede’s case, not only is she heir to the Shirakawa domain, she is now also heir apparent to the powerful Maruyama domain in the wake of Lady Maruyama Naomi’s tragic death. It is for this reason that Kaede finds herself being pressed by Lord Araii to marry into the Otori clan, as this will help him to advance his ambition to unite the Three Countries under his rule.
Kaede for her part, has no desire to simply be a pawn in the schemes of men. Inspired by her kinswoman, the late Lady Maruyama, Kaede has ambitions of her own, and intends to become a key figure in the future of the Three Countries, in her own right. In order to pursue this course of action, she first has to restore the prestige of the declining Shirakawa domain—despite her increasingly erratic father—then secure the financial and military backing needed to overcome the inevitable resistance to her plans to lay claim to the Maruyama domain.
Takeo, meanwhile, is struggling to come to terms with life among The Tribe. By agreeing to submit to The Tribe (under considerable duress), Takeo has reluctantly had to sacrifice his relationship with Kaede, and been forced to abandon his oath to avenge Lord Shigeru’s death. The latter in particular does not sit well with him, as it was The Tribe’s betrayal that lead to Shigeru’s death.
Ultimately, Takeo has to decide if his commitment to The Tribe is stronger than his love for Kaede and his devotion to Lord Shigeru. If not, is he prepared to risk death at the hands of The Tribe to follow wherever his heart leads him?
Grass For His Pillow contains all the same elements that made its predecessor an enjoyable read, while also being an improvement on Across The Nightingale Floor, in some respects. Though slightly shorter in length, Lian Hearn’s sequel doesn’t feel nearly as rushed as book one, due to the better pacing of the story.
As with Across The Nightingale Floor, the story unfolds from the viewpoints of Takeo and Kaede, but on this occasion Kaede’s story is given much more prominence. This decision proves to be a surprisingly good one for two reasons: firstly Kaede’s storyline is considerably more interesting than Takeo’s this time around; and secondly, Kaede evolves into a very compelling character during the course of the novel. In fact, she is unquestionably the most intriguing character in Grass For His Pillow.
The evolution of Kaede as a character might seem rather drastic to some readers, but—for myself at least—this kind of character development is always welcome. Gone is the impotent, self-pitying girl of the previous book; replaced by a determined, ambitious, self-assured, calculating and (when necessary) ruthless young woman. This is aptly highlighted when Kaede orders the deaths of two Shirakawa employees who refused to accept her leadership.
The only real flaw of Grass For His Pillow—if it can be considered such—is that it doesn’t have an actual ending. The conclusion of the book basically acts as a springboard; setting up all the essential elements for the sequel. This generally is to be expected of the second book of (what was originally intended to be) a trilogy. This means that Grass For His Pillow doesn’t work as a stand-alone novel, so all prospective readers are advised that they should read Across The Nightingale Floor first.
In conclusion, Grass For His Pillow—much like its predecessor—is a beautifully written, compelling and enjoyable historical fantasy tale, of two young lovers who must balance their love for each other, with the obligations of their station, in a land on the brink of war.
Telling it like it is. Giving you honest and balanced, spoiler free reviews. Completely devoid of irrational fanboyism, or shameless astroturfing.