Thursday, June 12, 2008

Harsh Cry of the Heron

by Liam Hearn

This is the fourth book in the Tales of the Otori and while I greatly enjoyed the previous books in the series I really think that it should have ended with the trilogy (Across the Nightingale Floor, Grass for his Pillow and Brilliance of the Moon). The Tales of Otori are set in an imaginary feudal Japan with some very interesting twists. A secret sect called the Hidden that are ruthlessly persecuted, the Tribe which has inherited supernatural powers and act as spies and assassins, the kingdom of the Maruyama traditionally ruled by women, the monks of Teruyama and are dedicated to peace to name just a few. The three books in the trilogy tell the tale of Takeo and Kaede who have overcome great odds and brought peace and prosperity to the Three Countries. The Harsh Cry of the Hearn is about the wonderful world that they have built falling apart as the traditional feudal elements seek to regain control.

While part of my dislike may be due to the fact that I would have liked the story to end on a positive note, I still think that a book about the unraveling could have been well done. Indeed, there are aspects of Harsh Cry that I really enjoyed. For the first time in the series the Three Countries are placed in a larger context. Foreigners (clearly Portuguese missionaries and merchants) are introduced for the first time and with them the opportunity to discuss the similarities and differences between Christianity and the Hidden. Moreover, the emperor of the Eight Islands is introduced for the first time and his interaction with the Three Countries is crucial to the tale. The supernatural elements are also interesting. The twins play a vital role and their involvement with the Dead and the Ghostmaster was fascinating.

What I most disliked about the book was that one of the main characters fundamentally changed in this book and took actions that did not feel true to me. I can appreciate that characters develop over time, just like people, and that someone that was good can turn evil or that appeared good also has an evil side but in this instance it was not skillfully done and I just couldn’t believe it. One minute the character is who I have known for three books and the next the character is someone I don’t recognize.

I highly recommend that anyone read the first three books in the series (the first is certainly the best). I probably would have read this book anyway just because I like to complete things but on the other hand the last book in the trilogy didn’t leave you looking for a sequel and that was a far better ending for the series. Indeed, it was originally intended to be a trilogy i.e. three books. I also note that there is now a Prequel: Heaven’s Net is Wide which I will probably read as it has gotten good reviews.

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