The Harsh Cry Of The Heron

Written by Lian Hearn
Review by Sarah Johnson

In this engrossing fourth and final volume of Hearn’s Otori series (though a prequel series is in the works), the boundaries between her lightly disguised feudal Japan and the “real world” feel thinner than ever. Sixteen years after Otori Takeo consolidated power in the Three Kingdoms under himself and his wife, Kaede, the realm appears to be at peace, but it’s only an illusion. Barbarian traders are throwing society’s fabric into disarray, as they come bearing firearms and preaching an odd new religion (which strongly resembles Christianity). The distant Emperor of the EightIslands has turned his covetous gaze towards Takeo’s prosperous realm. But the greatest threat to Takeo’s benevolent rule comes from within his own family, for his secret, illegitimate son – whom prophecy holds can be the only one to kill him – is being raised by his mortal enemies, the Kikuta.

                Hearn’s spare yet elegant writing ably conveys the beauty and tragedy ever-present in Japanese culture; images of delicate, breathtaking beauty alternate with action-packed battle scenes and stirring depictions of honor and sacrifice. Her characters are very well drawn, particularly Shigeko, Takeo’s intelligent eldest daughter, and his younger daughter, Maya, one of twins, whose growing supernatural abilities and resentment against her mother’s coldness prove to be a dangerous combination. An intricate and powerful historical fantasy saga set in a world I’d love to visit again.