Heaven’s Net Is Wide: The First Tale of the Otori

Written by Lian Hearn
Review by Sarah Johnson

In this gripping prequel to the Otori novels set in an alternate feudal Japan, Hearn delves into the back story of the man—Otori Shigeru, mentor, adoptive father, and uncle to warrior hero/clan leader Takeo—whose presence loomed large throughout the series. The previous four volumes referred to events later mythologized into Otori history, but here they’re seen front and center: the origin of Shigeru’s long-standing rivalry with Tohan leader Iida Sadamu; the Otori’s devastating loss against the Tohan on the plains of Yaegahara, a battle where ten thousand warriors died; Shigeru’s star-crossed romance with Lady Maruyama, the land’s only female ruler; and his subtle plan to regain power, which in the end involves Takeo, the bastard half-Otori nephew no one else knows exists.

As young Shigeru trains for leadership of the most powerful clan in the Three Countries, he quickly learns that duplicity lurks not only within rival clans, but also within his own family. Hearn writes movingly of his loves and losses, setting them against the backdrop of a warrior culture based in feudalism and family loyalty. Her light yet powerful prose conveys the elegance and cruelty of a land where secret lovers communicate in cryptic, symbolic poetry, yet where a stonemason who builds a magnificent bridge is encased alive in his creation since his ambition may offend a river god.

Knowing how it will end—in a seamless joining with the opening scene of Across the Nightingale Floor— doesn’t diminish the pleasure of getting there, and there are some surprises to be found throughout, too. After five volumes it’s unfair to state a desire for more of the Otori’s world, but there you have it.