Tales of the Otori 1 : Heaven's Net is Wide


Lian Hearn




Date Reviewed:

January 7, 2008

eaven's Net is Wide is the first tale in the story of the Otori's, though it is the fifth book that Hearn has written - I guess he is taking a George Lucas approach to production, coming out with the middle of the story first (four other books have already been published in the Otori series), and then going back to release the prequel .

Heaven's Net is Wide is confusing at first, there are so many characters introduced, all with Japanese names, which makes them more difficult to distinguish. Occasionally, later in the novel, some of these characters would pop up again after a long absence in the narrative, and I would have think - who is that again? Fortunately, Hearn provides a four page list of characters, including the horses, at the front of the book. There is also a map, which I consulted often. The story is sent in a fictional version of medevial Japan. The Otori clan are rulers of the middle kingdom; their ancient enemies are the Tohan, in the Eastern kingdom. (The area describes is not very big, - the West, Middle and Eastern Kingdoms seem to cover no more than a penisula of Japan. The hero of the story, Shigeru Otori, often crosses the land on foot in just a few days.)

Shigeru Otori is the heir to the Otori clan. We are introduced to him as a boy when he saves his brother from drowning. We watch as Shigeru grows up, there is a long section where he spends training with a master swordsman on a forested mountain top - the plot is rather routine, there aren't any surprises - but the characters are interesting enough that the pages keep turning. After months of training, Shigeru returns to his father's capital, much to the consternation of his scheming uncles. Back in civilization, Shigeru is attracted to a smart & lovely prostitute, but of course he must marry a suitable woman and produce an heir - and naturally, the woman selected to be his wife is horrible. (In writing down this story summary, I am surprised at how trite it sounds. Reading the book was enjoyable, the hero Shigeru is interesting).

Perhaps the best part of Heaven's Net Is Wide is the story of a the Tribe - a band of secretive super assassins that can make themselves invisible, or move at lightning speed. Shigeru meets some of these killers, and thinks that "the Fox" has actually befriended him. Another secret society is "the Hidden" - which are civilians who have joined a religion of non-violence and are persecuted for their faith (much like Christians in the Roman empire.) Shigeru meets some of these people as well, and vows to let them live in peace on the Otori kingdom.

Shigeru's return from his training regime elevates his status at his father's court, but Shigeru doesn't get to enjoy his role as heir of the Otori kingdom for long - the Tohan put together an army and invade from the east. Shigeru carries his father sword into battle, but the battle with the Tohan goes horribly wrong when treachery turns the tide. Shigeru is ready to commit suicide when "The Fox" appears, having rescued his fathers sword from the field, and gives it to Shigeru. Shigeru decides to live in disgrace rather than commit suicide, he will plot revenge against the Tohan.

The ending to the story is unsatisfactory. Shigeru plots revenge, but nothing is resolved. Apparently this is all background information to Across the Nightingale Floor - the original first book to the Tales of the Otori. Perhaps all this background information will give a different slant to Across the Nightingale Floor (which I read several years ago, but don't remember very well.)