Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Book Review: The Tales of the Otori by Lian Hearn

As a young teenager, I read this book at the same time as my best friend and we raved about it for some time. Returning back to books once you're an adult, particularly young adult fiction, can often be a risky venture resulting in disappointment but on this occasion, it only delighted me further.

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"Set in feudal Japan, Tales of the Otori is a relatively undiscovered gem in young adult fiction. It follows the entwined stories of Kaede and Takeo, two teenagers who both struggle against the limitations of their class, gender and upbringing to gain power and are very much in love with each other.

What’s good about it?
The rich descriptions and the confidence in the telling of Japanese customs makes it a very different read to the usual for the younger audience as it has all the elements of a successful teenage book: romance, war, coming of age and magic in addition to the exploration of a culture which will seem alien to your average reader. That being said, many critics have argued over inaccuracies regarding the Japanese culture in the book and it’s hotly debated in amongst reviewers about the quality of Hearn’s research. For someone who knows little about the subject though (beyond Memoirs of a Geisha, I'm clueless), it reads well and nothing seems to be far-fetched despite some of its heady ideas.
If the easy insight into the ancient Japanese way of life isn't enticing enough then you’ll most definitely be hard-pushed to not be pushed by the action! There are battle scenes after battle scenes, particularly in the third part of the trilogy where Hearn manages to capture the heat of the action perfectly on page without it turning boring or going on for far too long. Add into that the tribe skills (invisibility, heightened senses and reflexes and many more), and almost every conflict scene will have you frantically reading to find out every grisly detail.
A believable romance is another great quality in these books. While at first it made me sceptical, as the characters and indeed their love for one another develops the romance between them becomes strikingly powerful. Luckily this does not only apply to our two main characters but to many characters within the book – they all start off fairly good and then develop into something really worth talking about. Hearn’s talent for describing the coupled beauty and pain that comes with loving another take these romances beyond your average young adult book and give it a much more realistic and deeper quality than you can often find.

What isn't so great?
Yes, Hearn takes on writing in a different period and it’s works very well BUT it does get monotonous to constantly be reminded of the barriers between genders and clans. There’s only so many times you can read about men dominating over the female characters in almost all their actions before it starts to drag on you, and that’s coming from someone who’s enthusiastic about equal rights! It’s bearable and in most instances necessary but I can see why it would be a put off for some readers who are more eager for the action and less about how the trilogy fights for social progression.
Cultural inaccuracy, now, as I’ve said above, I don’t know enough about the context of that time in Japan to give a sound opinion on the trilogy’s accuracy but it has been a huge aggravation to some of its readers. This might be something to look out for if you’re planning on buying it as a gift for someone who is well read on their Japanese history.
It’s a trilogy…but there are five books. Oh yes, like many ‘trilogies’ the story doesn't end there. There are two much more chunkier books, one a sequel, one a prequel about the reasons behind Takeo being adopted from his small village upbringing into a powerful clan (the Otori). If you’re anything like me, a ‘trilogy’ with added books seems like false advertising. Still, the other two books are a brilliant read so if you do enjoy the trilogy, you won’t go far wrong with giving them a space on your bedside table.

Overall, I rate these books highly for their beauty and for their insight into a completely different way of living from my own.
I’d recommend them to readers who enjoy flowery, almost poetic descriptions but who won’t want to turn away from grisly fighting scenes. Although the books are marked as fantasy, they're not what I would expect your typical fantasy book to contain so if you’re looking for dragons, magic and gods, this probably won’t be enough to quench your thirst in that respect. As previously mentioned, these books are relatively undiscovered. My city library only had a copy of the prequel and it hadn't been borrowed by anyone since 2005, the poor thing. If this review seems right up your street then I'd definitely suggest buying them as they're hard to get hold of, if you have doubts then don't waste your money but keep an eye out for them in libraries so you can try before you buy!"
(Read 12-25th June, 2014)

I abandoned my Kobo Glo for a change since I've wanted these books in my collection
for some time!

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