Across the Nightingale Floor, Episode 1 & 2 - (Tales of the Otori, Book 1) by Lian Hearn, 2002
KidsLit and Chicken Spaghetti have linked to this very interesting NYTimes article about manga for girls. The article does a good job of explaining (to me) the hold this medium has on young imaginations. I loved the genre description "big eyes save the world."
Knowing and living with young folk who are fascinated by all things Japanese, I was very interested in Lian Hearn's fantasy series, Tales of the Otori. The Guardian has a profile of Hearn which describes the series and the personal aspects of her life that have influenced the stories.
The two teenagers at the centre of the books are very much alone, unprotected by any nurturing adults. This is from Hearn's own background. "My sister and I had to grow up very quickly because in the space of about three years our parents separated, and both married again, and my mother and stepfather went out to Nigeria to live, and my father was killed in a car accident six months after they went. My sister was 15 and a half, and I was 14." Generally a soft, dreamy speaker, she tells this in a rush, the early, brutal shock still unresolved. Even now, she says, when she is over here to nurse her mother, the old issues stay undiscussed.
The girls were at boarding school in England, and were called in to the headteacher's office to be given the news of their father's death. The next morning, Rubinstein's history teacher couldn't understand why she was unable to deliver her homework assignment. "It was that sort of boarding school," she says. "We were just supposed to carry on as if nothing had happened."
In Book one, the reader meets Tomasu, a young man who must leave his true identity behind when his village is overrun by an evil warlord named Iida. Tomasu is found and adopted by Lord Shigeru who changes the the boy's name to Takeo and provides him with an education and instruction in the martial arts.
The story line shifts to another castle where a lovely young woman, Kaede is being held as a hostage in the political wars of the feudal Japanese type era. Takeo and Kaede's paths cross when she is betrothed to Shigeru in exchange for peace with the nasty Iida. There are several subplots that come into play including the truth of Takeo's parentage, a secret Christian-like religion whose followers called "the Hidden" are persecuted for their beliefs, and a clan called the Tribe who have amazing fighting skills as well as the ability to become invisible.
The paperback versions are beautiful little editions, (only 6 inches high) that fit in my hand perfectly. The story is a page turner. I would certainly recommend these books to high schoolers who are interested in Japan as well as readers of historical fiction. Though the story is fantasy this is NOT Lord of the Rings "à la japonais." I enjoyed the story and am anxious to see what happens next to these young people.