I’ve gotta be honest with you guys… this review is totally biased. I found the first novel of Lian Hearn’s Tales of the Otori series in a school library while I was pregnant with CJ and was hooked. When I got the opportunity to read and review an advance copy of Emperor of the Eight Islands: The Tale of Shikanoko, it was a little bit like Christmas for me! But if you haven’t had the chance to pick up the original Otori series, don’t worry – this could still be a great book for you.
The original Otori tales sprung out of the author’s desire to set a fantasy story in medieval Japan and this she does most successfully. In the same way that Potter or Martin fans crave anything new Harry Potter or Game of Thrones, Hearn fans wanted more, especially about the legendary hero mentioned in Heaven’s Net is Wide, Takeyoshi. While the original fantasy series tends more towards the historical fiction end of the spectrum, she was inspired to set the new prequel Shikanoko series in a time when the supernatural is accepted as a part of everyday life.
As I said earlier, you do not need to have read the Otori series (although I highly recommend it) in order to enjoy Emperor of the Eight Islands. Hearn makes a few clever nods to the original series but doesn’t lean on the knowledge of it to develop her plot and characters. As in the original Otori series, she creates well-rounded protagonists – while they may be heroic, they are also imperfect and flawed. I was also impressed that in a story set in a male-dominated medieval Japan, there were strong female characters who weren’t afraid to take on challenges to gain what they desired – selfishly or not.
The twists and turns in this story are something else. I can think of at least a couple of occasions where I was reading curled up in bed and literally gasped or clapped my hand to my mouth. This, I think, is one of my favourite things about Hearn’s writing – that it is not in the slightest bit predictable, that it’s an exciting read.
I’m a huge fan of both Japanese culture (it’s on the bucket list) and Hearn’s writing, but I’d recommend this book to any fantasy fan and anyone who likes a read that is full of action and that twists the brain. And of course, if you love this book, then pick up the original Tales of the Otori series!