“It was a time of troubles and opportunities. In the capital the Emperor was weak, his sons rivals. His brother-in-law, the Prince Abbot at Ryosonji, was regent in all but name. He favored the Emperor’s younger son and carried on endless intrigues against the Crown Prince.”
Dark forces plot against the heir to the Lotus throne, wishing to replace him with his younger brother.
Far from this royal contention lives a young orphan named Kazumaru. After his uncle forces him from his rightful inheritance, he is used by a magician and sorceress for their dark magic, giving him a power that changes the course of his destiny. He becomes Shikanoko, “the deer’s child,” and soon inadvertently attracts the attention of a dangerous sorcerer, the treasonous Prince Abbot. But as Shikanoko learns to wield his powers, he finds that instead of giving him freedom, they put him in new kinds of bondage.
The power struggles of Hearn’s medieval, mythical Japan pose all kinds of threats to a friendless teenaged boy. Shikanoko trusts no one, but still he devotes himself to the service and care of others, giving readers hope for the development of a just warrior over the four installments of the fantasy series. Adult Fantasy, Published April 2016 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux Originals.
I wasn’t thrilled with the first Lian Hearn book I read, Across the Nightingale Floor , which to me felt underdeveloped in almost every way. But when I saw her new quartet, published entirely within the space of a year, it occurred to me that with a few changes, I might enjoy her books. So I decided to try Emperor of the Eight Islands.
I’m so glad I did.
Pride began to well up in him, sweet and seductive, telling him he deserved all things, that he was allowed all things, that he could take what he wanted, in this world and the next.”
This book felt much darker and more adult than Across the Nightingale Floor. Sex plays a large role in the dark magic that binds Shikanoko to his destiny—and sex rarely means love, in this story. It means power: the power of the heir, the power of dark magic over a victim, the power of lust. Everything is a power struggle.
Thus, ambition and motivation animate the characters much more than personality, giving substance to the clashes between them and making them, at times, unlikable. But within a few paragraphs of reading from their perspective, I found myself in full sympathy with them, despite my direct opposition only pages before.
The style is very spare and active; activity, rather than thought or conversation, drives every scene of the narration. Hearn only gives us one or two telling details of everything, amidst the action, but I was never confused. Every vital piece of information stands out clearly in this concise 251 page installment.
This is the magic of Lian Hearn.
The terrible, horrible cliffhanger of an ending is only mitigated by the publication of the rest of the series in such quick succession. Emperor of the Eight Islands is more installment than standalone. Immediately upon finishing, I requested a copy of book II and started reading.
The style of Emperor of the Eight Islands is spare and brutal, but the characters lead us to hope for the destiny of the Lotus Empire. Recommended to adults and—maybe—older teens who enjoy a more literary kind of fantasy.
Trigger Warning :
Thank you so much to Lian Hearn, FS&G Originals and Netgalley for the review copy!