I recently read Orphan Warriors, the first installment in the Children of the Otori duology by British-born Australian author Lian Hearn. In the events following the aftermath of the Tales of the Otori series, Orphan Warriors follows a young protagonist, one of the orphan sons of Arai Zenko, former friend and betrayer to Lord Takeo Otori.
Orphan Warriors takes place several years after Takeo’s death, Sunaomi and his younger brother Chikara have escaped execution alongside their parents providing they remain within the secluded protection of the Terayama temple monastery. Although Sunaomi and Chikara were raised as warriors, they now live as monks under the protection of their aunt, the late Lord Takeo’s wife’s Kaede. However, Sunaomi’s grandmother is Muto Shizuka, now a prominent leader in the Tribe. Soon, Sunaomi begins to discover his own inherited talents from the Tribe and he must choose between the honurable ways of the warrior class he is forever now excluded and the less honourable paths followed by the Tribe.
Closely bound to Sunaomi’s own story and self-discovery is that of another orphan warrior at Terayama, Lord Takeo’s own son Hisao, who was stolen and raised among the Tribe to assassinate his Takeo. Events in the Eight Islands suddenly change when Saga Hideki, the Emperor of the Eight Island’s most powerful Warlord becomes increasingly unstable. Sunaomi escapes Terayama when Saga Hideki sends forces for the remaining Ortori heir, but Hisao also escapes capture. Sunaomi forms a complex bond with Hisao, who has a rare Tribe talent as a ghostmaster, controlling the spirits of the dead. Yet Sunaomi is reluctant to condemn Hisao as morally corrupted as easily as the Tribe and the warrior class. Sunaomi works to understand and reverse the effects of a lifetime of privation, suffering and darkness that Hisao has endured. In the end, Sunaomi must confront his own rare gifts inherited from the Tribe to either directly combat or outmaneuver Hisao as the ghostmaster brings the threat of war and destruction closer to realization.
Orphan Warriors was a wonderful story following the aftermath of the Tales of the Otori series while combining important elements from The Tale of Shikanoko series. I look forward to reading the second volume and conclusion to the Children of the Otori.