Across the Nightingale Floor by Lian Hearn
Author: Lian Hearn
Readers: Kevin Gray and Aiko Nakasone
Short Review: Look Mom—I’m panning a well-loved book!
A fantasy/faux history of feudal Japan read by two readers—one of whom can’t be bothered to pronounce the name of a main character correctly. The characters aren’t particularly well thought-out or fleshed-out, the main character seems like a dunderhead to me much of the time, and the “Christians are persecuted” sub-plot just didn’t excite me. I guess it’s a nice snack as long as I didn’t think too hard about it, but it left me feeling a bit sick, as if I’d had too much sugar.
Long Review: I picked this up because it had been recommended by some friends. It has its charms, but it also has some giant, gaping holes that really annoyed me. I can’t be bothered to continue with the series. I won’t say anything specific about the problems with plot or characterization, though, because it is a plot-driven story, and I think a lot of people with different tastes (i.e., not picky, bratty editors like me) would enjoy the book.
The book follows two main characters: Takeo is a teenager who has grown up in a secret, apparently Christian enclave, who finds that his village has been destroyed and then learns he’s part of a secret clan of assassins. Kaede is a teenaged girl who has been promised in marriage to a man she hates. The two meet and become star-crossed lovers, of course, and they dance around each other during the course of the book. Takeo often seems like an idiot, because the author needs him to do something to advance the plot, but that “something” is irrational or downright stupid. Since he’s supposed to be a member of a brilliant, super-human clan of assassins, these moments of stupidity are particularly annoying to me. It’s one thing when your pimply-faced fool character is doing idiotic things to advance the plot. But when the supposed genius natural warrior does it, things fall apart.
For the sake of the review, I read it on paper and listened to it so I could give a fair appraisal of the book on its own, as well as of the audiobook. I try to do that with most of the books I review for this site, since I think a good audiobook should be able to stand up to the written version well. What drove me most nuts about the audiobook in particular is that Kevin Gray mis-pronounces Kaede’s name throughout the book. That is inexcusably bad editing, as far as I’m concerned, since Nakasone pronounces it correctly throughout. It may seem like a small thing, unless, of course, anyone has ever repeatedly mispronounced your name or the name of someone you love. Each time Gray said Kaede’s name, it pushed me right out of the book.