Children of the Otori series by Lian Hearn
Orphan Warriors. ISBN 9780733641213.
Sibling Assassins. ISBN 9780733643545.
(Age: Secondary/adult) Highly recommended. Lian Hearn continues her enthralling Children of the Otori series in these two new books: Orphan warriors and Sibling assassins. Set again in the medieval fantasy world in Japan, the five previous novels sold in their millions, and were followed by two prequels. Orphan warriors and Sibling assassins follow the perilous life of Arai Sunaomi. Around him are members of the feuding clans and the Tribe, all trying to survive, manipulate and or gain power. Sunaomi and his younger brother have been saved from execution by their aunt after the disgrace and treachery of their parents, but they must remain as monks in the Terayama temple. It is here that Sunaomi, now known as Kasho, begins to realise he has special powers but as yet does not understand them. Others however see his potential and wish to use him for their own ends.
Chief among these is Hisao a ghost master who seeks to become a powerful controller with the aid of Kasho and his ability to bring inanimate objects to life. Then there is also the Tribe, a group who with special training and talents wish to have Kasho within their realm and use him to their own ends. He is able to stay alive through the help of some faithful retainers and some members of the Tribe, but he is never sure who he can trust or if he is really in control of his gifts.
In Sibling assassins a few years have passed and Arai Sunaomi is now 17 and seemingly enjoying a safer more comfortable life. He will be the heir of his aunt and other powerful families wish to be allied to him. His friend Masao has gone off the rails; he is accused of murdering a young noble and fled. Sunaomi is tasked with finding him and bringing him back to face the consequences.
He must also travel to Hoshu to gain intelligence on Terada Fumio now Lord in Hoshu, the Hidden a religious sect, the influence of western foreigners as well as numbers of ships and western weaponry. Sunaomi and his small retinue soon find that their credentials from his aunt and the Empress mean little and danger lurks everywhere. This extends not only to the world of men but the supernatural as well. His relationship with Utahime the dead sister of Masao is one which threatens his sanity and his ability to interact with those who faithfully serve him.
Terada is forming alliances, ships and western weapons to rebel against the rulers in Miyako. Sunaomi has no status in Hofu. He is seen as a young boy with no experience and no backbone, and finds himself without friends and imprisoned. It is only by chance during a typhoon that he is freed and able to escape the city to safety and those loyal to the Empress.
For those who have not read any of the Otori series before, I would recommend you do read them or check out the outlines on the web. I had not read some of the later books in the series and found the Orphan warriors problematic because of the number of characters. The author does give a list at the beginning of the books which is helpful, and when reading Sibling assassins it was much easier to gasp what was happening and enjoy the narrative far more. For those who are fans of Lian Hearn (Gillian Rubinstein) and the Otori books I have no doubt you will once again enjoy delving into to mystical, magical, medieval Japanese world she creates. Themes: Fantasy, Japan.