by Lian Hearn
Prequel to the main ‘Tales of the Otori’ series.
Previously reviewed: Across the Nightingale Floor (Book I), Grass for His Pillow (Book II), Brilliance of the Moon (Book III), and The Harsh Cry of the Heron (Book IV)
Heaven's net is wide but its mesh is fine.
Young Shigeru is the heir to the great Otori clan, one of the most powerful families in the land. Their bitter rivals for power, the Tohan, are ruled by a man who wishes to control all of the Three Countries. Although he is only a teenager, Shigeru has shown wisdom, so his father Shigemori, current head of the Otori, sends him to the temple at Terayama to train with a legendary swordsman named Matsuda. Although Shigeru relishes his life in the mountains with the monks, he dislikes leaving his father under the council of his treacherous uncles. The political situation in the Three Countries deteriorates further when Shigeru kills a Tohan warrior in a swordfight. He returns to the Otori capital to take up his place as leader of the clain, but treachery and duplicity cost him countless lives as family, friends and loyal Otori are slaughtered again and again. Desperate to reclaim his honor, Shigeru must wait patiently for an opportunity for revenge.
Heaven’s Net is Wide is a prequel to the Tales of the Otori. It is clearly written with the intention of being read after the reader has finished the main trilogy; embedded in the text are several winks and nudges to future events. I thought this detracted from the story. A narrative with one eye always looking to the future isn’t fully concentrated on the present, and there was a detached quality to the writing. Since Shigeru was one of the most intriguing heroes in Tales of the Otori, I wanted to learn more about him and be with him for all the big adventures in his young life. Sadly, I never felt fully immersed in his story.
Drama is one thing that the series has never failed to deliver on. Death and bloodshed stalk the men, who fight for honor and glory, while emotional women act out dramas worthy of an operatic stage. Shigeru’s beautiful mistress Akane is renowned for her beauty throughout the land, inciting bitter jealousy in his wife. Shigeru falls in love with the lord of another domain, in which leadership passes through the women of the family, and this lifelong romance burns in his heart for years. Now that I think about it, why do all these women fall in love with Shigeru? I mean, he may be the lord of a powerful family but he isn’t that great. Right?
The characters are pretty black and white. The evil Tohan family is always cruel, two-faced, vindictive, petty, and violent. Shigeru’s two uncles, whom he despises, are likewise one-dimensional. Shigeru doesn’t have any real flaws; he’s the best swordsman of his generation, obsessed with justice and righting wrongs. He’s the HERO and you can’t ever forget it.
I was disappointed in this prequel. It lacked the subtle, delicate language that delighted me in Across the Nightingale Floor and its other sequels. The novel was uneven, even rushed at the end, as if the author couldn’t wait to get through all this backstory so the ‘real’ story could begin. The book doesn’t really stand on its own. Since each subsequent volume has diminished in quality, I hope that Hearn has decided to let the Otori series rest with this final book.
3 out of 5 stars
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