I’ve long been a fan of Lian Hearn, and reviewed the first edition of the new series here. This series is a little different in that it has been published in both two- and four-book formats, with the two-book series having Part 1 & 2 in the first edition and Part 3 & 4 in the second edition. If I was buying this for a teenager I might buy the four book series (one part per book) so that the reading was a little bit more bite-sized. Regardless, I think it would be enjoyed, especially by those hard-to-please teenage boys!
This series follows on the story of Shikanoko but he almost takes a backseat to the rise of his sons and the next generation, infants in the first edition. In particular, one son – Mu – rises from personal grief to become the closest thing that the story has to a classical hero. Another brother, Kiku, takes advantage of circumstances and mystic power to build a personal empire.
This novel continues on the mysticism of the first edition, with a much clearer presence of the tengu – bird-like goblins that are part of Japanese mythology. The inclusion of the tengu felt natural rather than a handy plot device, despite the assistance that they offer some of our heroic characters. Spirits, both good and malevolent, abound and there was a moment (I won’t spoil it for you) that was almost Disney-like in magic.
If I had one peeve with this novel, it was that the ending felt a little rushed. In limiting the series to four books rather than the five from the Tales of the Otori series, the last few chapters of Lord of the Darkwood were a little action-heavy as loose ends were tied up. I did like, however, the connection that readers were able to make at the end of the novel to the Otori series – while it’s not a necessity to have read these books to enjoy Emperor of the Eight Islands and Lord of the Darkwood, it was a nice nod to long-time readers. Still a quality read, one I would gladly recommend to any lover of fantasy fiction.