Book Review: Emperor of the Eight Islands: The Tale of Shikanoko by Lian Hearn

Monday, March 7, 2016
I love reading. Books are amazing. They are a form of escapism, yes, but they are also inspiration, joy, and... well. Goodness. I think in some ways I have used my appetite for reading to define parts of my personality, so it made sense for me to review some of what I read! Here we go...

Title: Emperor of the Eight Islands
Author: Lian Hearn
Series:  The Tale of Shikanoko Books #1-2
Publication Date: March 2016 from Hachette

Synopsis: "An ambitious warror leaves his nephew for dead and seizes his lands.
A stubborn father forces his younger son to give up his wife to his older brother.
A woman of the Old People seeks five fathers for her five children, the Spider Tribe, born from cocoons.
A powerful priest trains a young disciple, Shikanoko, who has been made a sorcerer against his will.
An intricate tapestry has been woven for two rival clans to enter a savage battle over who will be Emperor of the Eight Islands..."

My thoughts: When Hachette contacted me about a new Lian Hearn book, I jumped at the chance to get my hands on a copy. I have previously adored Hearn's writing - particularly in the Otori books that I have read, as well as Blossoms and Shadows. Hearn writes such amazing characters that I really begin to care for and, more than that, she creates a world which is so wonderful to get lost in, even when the risk of death to the characters is great.

The first two books from The Tale of Shikanoko (collected in this volume) are no different. I quickly found myself lost in the world she had created here, and I was fascinated by the magical elements of what was being created before my eyes. There are quite a few characters to follow, but I found that I quickly began to remember each character's story and want to know what was going to happen to them next. 

The fantastical elements of the story blended so well with the more 'mundane' parts that you found yourself believing that everything written in front of you did actually happen, it just became a part of a greater whole.

The character of Shikanoko himself was most interesting to him - as much as he tried to regain control over the way his life had gone, he still often ended up confused, bewildered, and even frustrated by what was happening around and to him. He was shown to be somewhat of an innocent in the world, even when he tried to be wise, and I felt that innocence carry me through the world quite effectively - after all, as a reader, I was even more innocent than Shikanoko. 

I think, at times, Hearn's writing came across as just a little too short and sparse, and some of the characters sounded the same at times, which made it even harder to follow each individual story. This was a bit of a drawback for the story, but really the only one that I can mention. I am truly excited to go onto the next volume - Lord of the Darkwood, containing books #3-4 - as soon as I can.

(I received a review copy of this book from Hachette - thank you!!)

You would like this book if: you are fond of the Otori books, as this is set 300 years before those; you are interested in magical and slightly violent tales with a Japanese setting.

Tea to drink while reading this book: Something delicate, but comforting, to balance the palate while you are consuming so much through the book. I would recommend Genmaicha of some kind - maybe this one from T2.

Rating:  9/10

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