Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Dark Sorcery and Mythical Japan: Emperor of the Eight Islands by Lian Hearn [Book Review]

My rating: 4 / 5 ★

Don't grieve for me. I can't go on living this way. I pray every day to escape somehow—if the only way is through death, so be it.

TW: mentions of non-consensual sex & rape, torture, death

I jumped into this book blindly, only wanting to satisfy my craving for a story with Japanese mythical elements in it. And I came out with a potential new favourite series! ✨

Emperor of the Eight Islands is the first book set in The Tale of Shikanoko series by Lian Hearn. It follows a young boy named Kazumaru, whom after being left to die in the woods by his greedy uncle, is taken in by a sorcerer and placed under and initiation against his will. He later becomes the "deer child", and is called Shikanoko. The tale follows Shikanoko as he meets new people, good and bad, all the while wondering what his true purpose in life is.

This book is told in the third person point-of-view, of six different people. Despite this, I find the flow of the story easy to follow, the transition between each character rather smooth. It even helps me as a reader to gauge the world of the book much better. While this book is quite a thin book, there is a large number of characters in it, but fret not as a character list in included at the start of the book. I do suggest skipping the character list unless you need to refresh a character's role, because there are some spoilers in it.

He reflected grimly as he hastened back through the dark street on how children were used as pawns in men's struggles for power. His son, Tsumaru, the Emperor's grandson, Yoshimori, were to be abducted, hidden, murdered, not for any crime of theirs, unless it was from a former life, but because of who their fathers were.

The adults in this book disgusts me. Fueled by their hunger for power and lust, the children becomes their pawns and victims. My favourite characters are mainly the children: Akihime, Hina, Yoshimori, Kai and especially Shikanoko. The way their fates are tied are heartbreaking, and I think it is sad how these children are being forced to mature quickly, or else they will die in between the cruel fights between the adults.

Desire, greed, betrayal and extreme loyalty play large roles as themes of this book. There are a few scenes where the characters are forced to have sex, while being partially conscious. This may sound vile, but these scenes are vital for the plot as lust and desire are part of the dark sorcery being performed. However, non of the sexual scenes (including consensual ones) are graphic and are mostly mentioned in a few sentences, but if you are uncomfortable with these, please be mindful if you want to read this book. As for the torture and death parts, they are also mentioned briefly, but if you have a good enough imagination, it can be rather gruesome.

Overall, Emperor of the Eight Islands is a great introduction to The Tale of Shikanoko's world, and I have plenty of characters that I'm rooting for, and also characters whom I wish to experience the worst pain in their deaths. It is an easy and rather light read, despite the mythical elements in it. If I had not procrastinate, I could easily devour this book in a single sitting! It has a good deal of twists and shocking truths in it, and even though one of the main characters ends up making a terrible mistake in the end, I still enjoyed every bit of this book.

I look forward to continue this series soon. If you love reading stories with dark magic, demons, wars and Japanese mythology and culture, you might like to try picking up this one!


Title: Emperor of the Eight Islands
Series: The Tale of Shikanoko #1
Author: Lian Hearn
Publisher: FSG Originals
Genres: Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Asian Literature, Japan Literature
Format: Paperback
Publication Date: April 26th 2016
Pages: 251

Synopsis (Goodreads): An ambitious warlord leaves his nephew for dead and seizes his lands.

A stubborn father forces his younger son to surrender his wife to his older brother. 

A mysterious woman seeks five fathers for her children.

A powerful priest meddles in the succession to the Lotus Throne.

These are the threads of an intricate tapestry in which the laws of destiny play out against a backdrop of wild forest, elegant court, and savage battlefield. Set in a mythical medieval Japan inhabited by warriors and assassins, ghosts and guardian spirits, Emperor of the Eight Islands by Lian Hearn is a brilliantly imagined novel, full of drama and intrigue - and it is just the beginning of an enthralling, epic adventure: The Tale of Shikanoko.


Till next time ♡ Love, Aishah Humaira'

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