A review by Nalini Haynes
Across the Nightingale Floor is book 1 in the Tales of the Otori series (review here); Grass for His Pillow is book 2. Beware spoilers for book 1!
At the end of book 1, Takeo and Kaede part ways. This fit Hearn’s Japanese-themed fable, evoking memories of translated Japanese fables and movies like The Tale of Princess Kaguya. Grass for His Pillow follows both Takeo and Kaede as they travel to their new homes and lives: Takeo’s tribe, his initiations and assignments, Kaede to her father’s home, discovering she’s pregnant then pretending that she married Lord Otori in secret before he died.
Kaede is beautiful so she attracts male attention. However, she learnt from her benefactor in book 1, so now she seeks to become mistress of her own life as well as seizing the domains bequeathed to her. In Grass for His Pillow, Kaede prepares herself and schemes for the coming storm.
Takeo tries to fulfil his vows to the Tribe but they are cruel and merciless, increasingly alienating him instead of seeking to win him over. Although he still loves Kaede, he accepts another woman into his bed for comfort and companionship, only to be shocked when the Tribe’s snares are exposed.
Hearn breaks writing rules successfully, making her work stand out from contemporary Japanese and Chinese–influenced fantasy. I can’t quite put my finger on what makes her work different AND successful: it’s probably a combination of voice, style and authentic Japanese influence.
Grass for His Pillow reads like both interlude and a gathering storm building to the climax. I feel sure that allegorical lightning will strike, thunder will roll and the proverbial heavens will open in the next novel. I am loving this series although it follows the star-crossed lovers trope; Tales of the Otori is so much more, fresh and immersive.
Rating: 4 and 1/2 out of 5 stars
Format: paperback, 400 pages