Across the Nightingale Floor is a story with a medieval “Asian” setting in which a young man is saved from his destroyed village by a noble tragic lord and is taught mad ninja skills to take revenge on the evil lord who destroyed his village (and killed his new noble lord’s brother in a battle years before). It is a pulpy story in which Takeo stops speaking and thus can hear everything happening in the castle because his father he didn’t know was part of the assassin clan that exists. There’s another storyline about a young woman who’s a hostage being used as a bargaining chip by the evil lord. She’s going to be married to the noble lord, even though he secretly loves the head of the only clan allowed to be led by women… Fairly standard samurai/ninja melodrama.
It was okay, but I’m not rushing out for the rest of them. I think most of my problems revolved around how it felt like a nice white person writing an old D&D Oriental Adventures module. A good module, but still. I’d much more strongly recommend Ken Liu’s Dandelion Dynasty (which is more of an epic mashup) or Guy Gavriel Kay’s Under Heaven series (which is in not-China, but a specific-feeling not-China instead of a mashup of feudal Japanese-ish stuff).
Under Heaven is the first Guy Gavriel Kay book I’ve read in years and years. I don’t know why I haven’t read more of his since the Fionavar Tapestry, but I haven’t. Weird.
Under Heaven is a fantasy novel set in a world almost but not exactly like Tang Dynasty China. The difference is basically just enough to let Kay stray from history and include ghosts and someone who is something else. Also women have stronger roles than you’d usually see in a story actually from the first millennium.
When the book begins Shen Tai has spent the last two years burying bones from a decades-old massacre. He is given a gift in recognition for his service, a gift that means he must go to the capital. Someone is also trying to assassinate him, even before the extremely valuable gift is made known. The story follows Shen Tai and his bodygurd (and eventually a poet he befriends, who is one of the Banished Immortals) as they go to the capital to see the emperor and confront whoever is trying to kill him.
Shen Tai’s younger sister is a secondary character who has been traded to the barbarians beyond the Long Wall by her other brother (who’s at court in the capital). Her story is interesting and provides motivation for Shen Tai, but even though it’s the more fantastical part of the book, it feels a bit perfunctory.
I really enjoyed the book, especially since it is self-contained. As the end nears we’re learning more and more about what happened in history because of these events and the sense that we’re just dipping a ladle into a river of events that make up these lives is emphasized. It feels right in the way a historical epic should. Traditional, I suppose. Romantic. Very recommended for fantasy/historical fans.