Lian Hearn studied modern languages at Oxford University and worked as a film critic and arts editor in London before settling in Australia. A lifelong interest in Japan led to the study of the Japanese language, many trips to Japan and culminated in the writing of the Tales of the Otori trilogy.
The pseudonymous Hearn's second thrilling installment of her Tales of the Otori trilogy (after 2002's Across the Nightingale Floor) is once again set in a magic-haunted version of medieval Japan where no one wields unchallenged authority and no one is safe. The swirl of treacherous, shifting clan alliances threatens to overwhelm young lovers and aristocrats Takeo and Kaede. Separated throughout most of the action, the two must develop their talents while trying to maintain their integrity. Takeo possesses superhuman gifts such as the ability to become invisible, project a double image of himself and hear distant conversations; however, he must discipline his skills and control his impetuous temper. He also must work out his relationship with the Tribe, a treacherous secret organization of spies and assassins that saved his life but that may have murdered his father. Kaede, meanwhile, has to escape the powerless role of a woman if she is to protect herself and her family domain from predatory neighbors. Adept at creating vivid natural settings where the supernatural feels unusually plausible, Hearn catches fresh details of trees, birds, rivers and mountains. With quick, direct sentences like brushstrokes on a Japanese scroll, she suggests vast and mysterious landscapes full of both menace and wonder. Hearn shows that middle novels of trilogies don't have to simply fill space between an exciting opening and conclusion. (Aug. 11) Forecast: Hyped as the next J.K. Rowling, Hearn-in fact, Australian children's book author Gillian Rubinstein, who was born in England-disclosed her identity last year but has since kept a low profile. Her anonymity hasn't hurt, with rights to the trilogy sold to 20 countries and movie rights to Universal for an estimated $3.6 million. Don't expect the books to vie for the top of national bestseller charts, though, until the movie release. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Adult/High School-Familiarity with Across the Nightingale Floor (Riverhead, 2002) is important to understanding this story, as Hearn gives no recap of events in that book. Takeo abandons his adopted family, the Otori, to be trained by the Tribe. He learns more about this mysterious clan and about his origins, including the secrets behind his father's conception and death. In the end, he must decide if he will remain true to the ruthless, amoral Tribe or follow his heart and avenge Otori Shigeru. Shirakawa Kaede also faces difficult choices. She resists the path tradition demands of her, and seizes opportunities and education usually only granted to males. She is determined to claim her inheritance and remain faithful to Takeo, no matter the cost. The novel suffers from middle-book syndrome in that just as the action starts to get exciting, readers are told to wait for book three. Rather than the adventure and intrigue of the previous title, Grass focuses more on the internal transformations of Takeo and Kaede during the winter of their separation. The wealth of detail in the pseudo-Japanese setting helps ground the story. Purchase where the first book is popular.-Susan Salpini, Fairfax County Public Schools, VA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.