book reviews by Althea

The Emperor of the Eight Islands – Lian Hearn ***

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The Emperor of the Eight Islands
The Emperor of the Eight Islands by Lian Hearn

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Lian Hearn’s become known for her Japanese-tinged fantasies. I’d previously read the first installation of her ‘Tales of the Otori,’ ‘Across The Nightingale Floor,’ and thought it was quite well-done, if a little bit more juvenile-feeling than I’d expected. Although the protagonist of ‘Emperor of the Eight Islands’ is also a young man (also an orphaned and adopted one, as well), the tale here is quite a bit darker. And of course, we’re still in pseudo-Japan.

After his father’s death, Shikanoko has been brought up by his uncle. However, the uncle is greedy for the lands and position that Shikanoko is heir to. He uses the old ‘hunting accident’ ploy to get his nephew out of the way of his ambitions, and leaves the boy for dead. Rescued by a reclusive sorcerer, Shikanoko is trained in the ways of an ambiguous dark nature magic.

Shikanoko wants to reclaim the heritage that his uncle stole from him. But his teacher may have his own agenda behind training the boy who’s become “the deer’s child.” From warlords and bandits to the heights of Imperial politics, he’ll be drawn into a welter of schemes…

The story very much has the feel of a classic saga – to the point where at times, it doesn’t allow the reader to feel ‘close’ to the characters’ emotions in the way the we expect from modern novels. It reminded me of what Jessica Amanda Salmonson did with her Tomoe Gozen / ‘The Disfavored Hero’ saga (although Salmonson went much further in that direction). (…) I do think fans of one would enjoy the other.

Readers should also be aware that this is the first book in a series, rather than a completed story arc.

Many thanks to NetGalley and Farrar, Straus and Giroux for the opportunity to read. As always, my opinions are solely my own.

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