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Lian Hearn

Lian Hearn(1942- )
Lian Hearn is the penname of Gillian Rubinstein, an award-winning Australian children’s author. Learn more about her at her website.


Across The Nightingale Floor: So much more than advertised

Across The Nightingale Floor by Lian Hearn

The tagline stamped across the cover of Lian Hearn’s Across the Nightingale Floor is ‘One boy. One journey. One hidden destiny.’ Not only is this toe-curlingly clichéd, but it’s also pretty deceptive. It’s too reductive, too suggestive of the bog standard hero’s journey every fantasy fan has seen a million times. The book’s plot is complicated and surprising; its backdrop of a political feudal system riveting; the delicate Japanese-style landscape and customs are intricate. Across the Nightingale Floor, the first book in Lian Hearn’s TALES OF THE OTORI, is so much more than one boy, one journey, one hidden destiny. It’s fantasy at its finest and characters at their richest.

The story is introduced by Tomasu, our rather serious protagonist, who narrates the sacking of his village. He ma... Read More

Grass for His Pillow: It’s impossible not to get swept up by the characters’ plights

Grass for His Pillow by Lian Hearn

We saw myth, legend, folklore and tradition of feudal Japan seamlessly woven in Across the Nightingale Floor, and Grass for His Pillow offers equal richness and storytelling depth. In what marks the second book in the trilogy, Lian Hearn returns to the stories of Takeo and Kaede as they choose their alliances amidst increasing unrest between the clans.

Grass for His Pillow opens with Shirakawa Kaede lying in the temple; she is in the deep sleep Takeo put her in when we last saw her. Upon waking and discovering the departure of Takeo, she resolves to return to her father’s household and to inherit the lands that Lady Maruyama pledged to her before she died at the end of the last book. She feels increasingly sick on her journey and it is not long before Shizuka asks Kaede if she could be pregnant. She c... Read More

Brilliance of the Moon: A slightly anti-climactic finale

Brilliance of the Moon by Lian Hearn

With a complicated web of back-story set up and a return to familiar characters that we’ve seen develop, it goes without saying that Brilliance of the Moon should be the gripping climax of a trilogy that has thus far moved from strength to strength. The third and final instalment of the TALES OF THE OTORI series, the book has many loose ends to tie up, not to mention a certain prophecy that needs fulfilling. Across the Nightingale Floor and Grass for his Pillow were always going to prove tough acts to follow, and unfortunately Brilliance of the Moon doesn’t quite live up to its predecessors’ standards.

We start from where Grass for his Pillow left off: Takeo and Kaede have just been married in secret and it is now up to them to unite the Three... Read More

Heaven’s Net is Wide: Historical fantasy set in medieval Japan

Heaven's Net is Wide by Lian Hearn

Beauty, Grace, Eloquence. These words define the writing of author Lian Hearn. Her Tales of the Otori series of historical fantasy novels are extremely popular worldwide. If you haven't read the first four installments, Heaven's Net is Wide is a great place to begin the story.

Because it is a prequel, Hearn has not assumed the reader has much knowledge about the setting or characters. She begins with a hook, describing a confrontation between two members of the Tribe — a family of assassins. Readers of the prior books will recognize the importance of this event right away, but for the new reader, Hearn begins on just the right foot, hooking them into the story.

The tale is set in medieval Japan, with some mythic elements, mostly in relation to the unique abilities ... Read More

The Harsh Cry of the Heron: How a finale can undermine a series

The Harsh Cry of the Heron by Lian Hearn

Whilst it never gained the traction of the likes of Pullman and Potter, the TALES OF THE OTORI series has all the same ingredients: the epic scope, mystery and intrigue, impossible love and an entirely immersive setting. Whether it was luck or timing that never saw the series reach the same heights as its contemporaries, its same crossover appeal proves it is surely one of the great YA fantasy series. So how is it possible that Lian Hearn (pseudonym of Gillian Rubinstein) can undermine this entire sweeping epic in one fell swoop?

The Harsh Cry of the Heron (2007) begins sixteen years after the trilogy's finale in Read More

Blossoms and Shadows: Readers might not find what they are looking for

Blossoms and Shadows by Lian Hearn

Japan in 1857 is in turmoil. Internal divisions mean the country is on the brink of civil war, whilst after centuries of isolation, the country has also opened its doors to the west. In the midst of this instability, Tsuru, a doctor's daughter, wishes to study medicine, but the only expectation her father has for her is to marry.

After the hugely successful TALES OF THE OTORI series, Lian Hearn returns with a very different kind of novel in Blossoms and Shadows (2010). The evocative setting of Japan is still used as a backdrop, but this story is a historical one, largely without the fantastical elements of the Otori series.

Tsuru has harboured an interest for medicine since... Read More

Emperor of the Eight Islands: Fascinating and lyrical

Emperor of the Eight Islands by Lian Hearn

Emperor of the Eight Islands, by Lian Hearn, is the first book in a series of four, called THE TALE OF SHIKANOKO. The books are published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, and all four will be issued in 2016 (April, June, August, September). The publisher has used this compressed release schedule before, most notably with Jeff VanderMeer’s AREA X trilogy.

The Emperor of the Eight Islands is not a long book, although quite a bit happens between its covers. We meet the character of Shikanoko, the “deer’s child,” although he has another name when his father dies mysteriously on a scouting trip. The son is raised by a greedy uncle who plans to ... Read More

Autumn Princess, Dragon Child: Book Two loses no momentum

Autumn Princess, Dragon Child by Lian Hearn
Lian Hearn’s Autumn Princess, Dragon Child, the second book in THE TALE OF SHIKANOKO, begins right where the first book ended. This series plays out on a broad canvas and in this volume we follow some characters we saw only briefly in Emperor of the Eight Islands. Some characters find that their story arc ends in this book, as the story grows darker and more tragic, but the book never loses momentum.

This review may contain mild spoilers for Book One, Emperor of the Eight Islands.

With the manipulation of the Prince Abbot, who has installed a puppet emperor on the Lotus Throne, the Miboshi Clan is now ascendant, but the heavens themselves rebel against a false emperor, and the land is lashed with nat... Read More

Lord of the Darkwood: The story moves to the next generation

Lord of the Darkwood by Lian Hearn

This is Book Three in a quartet and this review may contain spoilers for earlier books.

In the third installment of Lian Hearn’s THE TALES OF SHIKANOKO, the story moves to the next generation, with the true emperor and the son of Shika and the Autumn Princess. In Lord of the Darkwood (2016), characters who previously played supporting roles take center stage, and for the first time in the series we meet a tengu, the magical birdlike beings that are not necessarily evil but definitely dangerous.

Despite seeing the tengu in action for the first time, and despite the advances in the plot, I didn’t enjoy Lord of the Darkwood quite as much as I did the first two books. Part of it may just be pacing. Many years go by in this book... Read More

The Tengu’s Game of Go: The second generation rises to make things right

The Tengu’s Game of Go by Lian Hearn

At the beginning of THE TALE OF SHIKANOKO, Shikanoko’s father played a game with a tengu. He lost, and what he lost cast an entire kingdom into disaster. Shikanoko, whose birth name was Kazumaru, was tainted by sorcery and as much a victim as a wielder of it. Now, in The Tengu’s Game of Go, the second generation rises to try to set things right.

Lian Hearn’s four-book saga reads convincingly like a Japanese tale cycle, and in The Tengu’s Game of Go, elements which seemed to have left the story return, some in surprising ways. When the story opens, Shikanoko, who is trapped within the deer mask, is living a half-deer, half-man existence in the Darkwood, and Yoshi, the hidden emperor, is living with the acrobats in the forest too. Yo... Read More