Orphaned and alone, Kazumaru must find a refuge when his uncle – greedy for his estate – tries to kill him in the midst of a hunt. Carrying with him the skull of the stag who died to save him, Kazumaru happens upon the hut of the powerful sorcerer, Shisoku. One who can bond the living with the dead, and man with beast.
With the help of the enigmatic Lady Tora of the Old People, Shisoku creates a ritual to bind Kazumaru with the dead stag. He is reborn as Shikanoko, the deer’s child. Though his old life is over, he has much to do.
The Eight Islands are in peril. The place of the rightful Emperor has been upset and forces are working to bring a different heir to power. The landed lords will have to choose their side, because a battle is coming.
Emperor of the Eight Islands is Lian Hearn’s latest novel exploring the multifaceted world of the Eight Islands. Told in multiple viewpoints, the novel chronicles the war that has divided the nation. Hearn’s inspiration for the novel comes from some of the historic warrior tales of Japan. She cites The Tale of the Heike and the Taiheiki as influences among others. These influences are clear in the structure of Emperor. It reads like an epic mythological tale set in feudal Japan.
There’s a lot going on in Emperor of the Eight Islands, but Hearn does a brilliant job of making the novel easy to follow. Quite a task considering that none of the names are familiar to most Westerners, and many of the names begin with the same letters as others.
The mythology and belief systems in Emperor are fresh and fascinating. With sorcerers, spirits – both evil and benign, ghosts and extraordinary beasts, the novel explores a world that is different to any fantasy I have read before. Hearn handles multiple storylines and perspectives masterfully.
While there are some fascinating characters with rich background stories and in depth development in Emperor, the female presence leaves much to be desired. Lady Tora is perhaps the most interesting of them, and her only objective is to reproduce.
Because Emperor reads like an ancient mythology the emotion is not high and not much emphasis is placed on description. The beauty of it lies in the fantastical elements; magic that is unleashed when the world falls out of balance, spirits that cannot rest until their duty is done and enchanted objects to aid the heroes on the quest.
Fans of Hearn’s Tales of the Otori will welcome this new series. It is a tightly woven, intricate tale that will stay with readers.
Emperor of the Eight Islands – Lian Hearn
Hachette (April 26, 2016)