It's time for another look at slightly older books. Two friends of mine who we'll call Misanthrope and Longshanks recommended Across the Nightingale Floor to me five years ago, promising that it was unusual, vivid, brilliant at alternate-Japan historical details, and above all cool. I just read raced through this book and am delighted to say it: you were right.
Rating: 4.5 stars
Length: Beautifully complex, but tightly paced (287 pages in trade paperback)
Publication: June 3, 2003 from Riverhead Books
Premise: A youth who has grown up in a small village learning only the religion of peace is forced into violent adulthood when his village is burned by the forces of Iida Sadamu, a warlord. Otori Shigeru, one of Iida's rivals, rescues the youth and renames him Takeo. They soon discover that Takeo possesses the powers of the Tribe, spies and assassins who use their remarkable gifts to move and kill in secret. Obligations and treachery threaten to upset the fragile life he is building, especially when Shirakawa Kaede, a young woman with a unsought reputation for death, steps into the dance.
Warnings: fairly gruesome treatment of prisoners, two brief and non-graphic attempted rape scenes
Recommendation: If you enjoy assassins, feudal Japan, political wrangling, tragic love affairs, or really just good writing, give this one a try. It somehow lands precisely in the YA/adult divide, showing gruesome fates and hard choices without either flinching away or wallowing in them.