16-year-old Tomasu lives in a secluded Japanese village in an alternate version of feudal Japan. Most of the people there are of the Hidden, a secret religion of peace and tranquility. One day, when Tomasu is out on a ramble, he returns to see that the entire village has been slaughtered by the soldiers of warlord Iida Sadamu, who want to eradicate all of the Hidden. The boy runs, and just as he is about to be captured by the hostile soldiers, he is rescued by the powerful Lord Otori Shigeru, who has his own score to settle against Iida.
Lord Otori tells Tomasu to forget his old life, and never mention the teachings of the Hidden again. From now on, he will be Otori Takeo, and Shigeru will adopt him as his heir. Most of Shigeru's loyal retainers think he's gone mad, still grieving the death of his brother, but Shigeru will not be argued with. He makes sure Takeo is tutored as befits a young lordling, and taught deportment, and etiquette and fighting. As time passes, and he gets to know Lord Otori better, Takeo understands that he is to be an important game piece in Shigeru's revenge.
Half the book is told from Takeo's first person narrative, but the other half is told in third person, narrating the experiences of Kaede, a young lady kept as a hostage by one of the vassal lords to Lord Iida. For much of her childhood, she is kept among the servants, despite her high birth. As she matures, and the soldiers start taking notice of her in all sorts of unfortunate ways, it becomes obvious that she needs to be kept more sheltered, or she'll get raped, and no longer useful as a bargaining piece. She is told that a marriage has been arranged for her, with the powerful Lord Otori Shigeru. She travels to her new home with the beautiful Lady Maruyama, who seems very friendly until she discovers the identity of Kaede's intended bridegroom.
This book had been on my shelf for nearly ten years, so it certainly qualified well for the Mount TBR reading challenge. I liked that it was a fantasy novel with a very different setting from what I am normally used to, and that the style of the characterization was simplistic and a bit exaggerated, a bit like in one of the many beautiful wuxia films, like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
. In a different book, I would be annoyed when two of the characters fall passionately in love the first time their eyes meet, as is the case with Takeo and Kaede. Here, it seems fitting, somehow.
This is primarily a fairly tragic story of revenge, and tragic romance, and a young man discovering his true heritage and what he has the potential to become. As I know little about feudal Japan, or the true traditions and history behind this period, any anachronisms and inconsistencies didn't annoy me, as it seems to have done a whole bunch of other people here on Goodreads. I thought it was the very promising start to a fantasy series, as it is quite obvious that although the revenge plot of this book is wrapped up, it is not the end to Takeo and Kaede's story. Strongly recommended.