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The City Of Invention

The book reviews of UK children's author, Brian Keaney

A Gripping And Original Fantasy That Made Me Reluctant To Return To Reality

Across the Nightingale Floor: Tales of the Otori Book One - Lian Hearn

Set in a world based on feudal Japan, Across The Nightingale Floor is the story of a boy who grows up in a small village as one of the Hidden, a religious cult that their overlord, the cruel and ruthless Iidu, has decided to persecute.

The story begins with the central character returning to his village to find a bloody massacre in progress. He runs from Iidu's soldiers but they pursue him and death seems certain when suddenly he is rescued by a nobleman who appears on the path ahead of him, kills one of the attackers, wounds another and whisks the young boy off on horseback.

It's the beginning of a new life for the boy who is adopted by the nobleman and given the name Takeo. The nobleman whose name is Shigiru, apparently decided to adopt Takeo on account of his resemblance to Shigiru's dead brother. However, there is more to his actions than he is at first prepared to reveal. His appearance on the road outside Takeo's village was no mere chance and Takeo soon begins to suspect that he is part of a much larger plan.

Eventually he will learn that his father was one of the Tribe, an ancient clan whose members possess certain remarkable abilities. Takeo's father, whom he had never known, had been an assassin, and as Takeo grows older he begins to develop some of his father's abilities - remarkable keenness of hearing, the ability to create a phantom second self and o render himself briefly invisible.

Shigiru hopes that Takeo will help him get his revenge against Iidu who was responsible for his brother's death. But the Tribe are also searching for Takeo for their own reasons. All this is complicated further when Takeo falls in love with the woman whom Shigiru is expected to marry.

If it sounds very plot heavy that's because it is. But it's also a tremendously atmospheric and gripping piece of fantasy, quite unlike most mainstream titles in this genre. It's also very dark and blood-thirsty so only suitable for adults or older teenagers.

The best thing about the book is that the author succeeds in the one critical tasks with which a fantasy writer is faced, that of creating a detailed, original and completely coherent alternative world that captivates the reader with such intensity that he returns to reality only with a real sense of loss.