BRILLIANCE OF THE MOON
Lian Hearn (Hodder, 2004, ISBN: 0-7336-1564-3)
Brilliance of the Moon is the last in Lian Hearn’s original Tales of the Otori trilogy. It takes place shortly after the conclusion of Grass for his Pillow. Takeo and Kaede have married in secret, against the wishes of their protector, the warlord Arai Zenko. Otori and Tribe forces both threaten Takeo and he is forced to flee with Kaede to Maruyama. Events conspire against them and the pair, after setting up their ambitious plans for the future, are separated.
While this novel is faster-paced and more eventful than the previous novel in the trilogy, it also lacks the fluid feeling of Across the Nightingale Floor. And, despite having read it multiple times, I still have difficulty recalling the exact events of the plot. The language itself is beautiful, and the stakes are higher than in previous books, but the tense pacing is not present. Instead, the prose appears to distance the reader from the full impact of the action and drama occurring within the novel. I’m not certain if this is simply because I read the books too fast, or if it is an aspect of the writing itself–one which I know my own writing does suffer from. It may be because as the story moves on, it becomes increasingly clear that it is being related by an older Takeo to persons unknown. He has received a prophecy foretelling his victories and defeats in his campaign against Lord Arai, Lord Fujiwara, and the Tribe. The same prophecy also foretells his death. So the tension in the piece is drawn less from wondering whether Takeo can survive and claim his Otori, Shirakawa and Maruyama inheritance, and more from the question of whether he can be reunited with Kaede.
Kaede’s story in Brilliance of the Moon is more captivating. Shortly after her arrival in Maruyama she is kidnapped by the powerful Lord Fujiwara, who was introduced in the previous novel as a potential suitor. Though himself homosexual, Fujiwara finds Kaede’s beauty, touched as it is by her suffering, exquisite. He wishes to marry her so he may keep her as his possession. A friend of the distant emperor and ally of Lord Arai, Fujiwara has nothing to prevent him claiming Kaede from the outlaw Takeo. Kaede is made a prisoner in his manor. The writing around her imprisonment and despair is poetic and beautiful. Though sure Takeo will try and save her, she has no idea whether he will succeed.
Hearn handles the potential for difficulty in this storyline well. Kaede could be construed as a damsel in distress, but we are party to the futility of her situation. She attempts to fight Fujiwara by the limited means available to her, but every effort is quenched. Fujiwara, a thoroughly odious character who despises women, could be seen as a vicious stereotype of gay men but for his complexity, and for the presence of other more sympathetic homosexual characters. One of Takeo’s key friends and allies, Makoto, is also gay and Takeo even sleeps with him. There is little taboo around gay sex in Hearn’s created universe, in keeping with the setting of quasi-feudal Japan. This is refreshing to read and far too absent in many fantasy novels.
Brilliance of the Moon is a beautiful, if melancholic, conclusion to the Tales of the Otori trilogy. It answers most, but not all of the questions raised through the series. The mysteries it does leave, though, are matters we know will arise in the future, and the series would not work any worse as a whole without its prequel or sequel. I could not recommend Tales of the Otori more highly.