The Emperor of the Eight Islands (The Tale of Shikanoko #1) by Lian Hearn

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…

Each of the stories is the thread in an delicate and intricate tapestry. Where man and myth collide and the laws of destiny are set firm. Where ghosts and guardian spirits are very real and can cause just as much harm as any warrior or assassin. Against the background of a mythical medieval Japan, The Emperor of the Eight Islands weaves these threads together and sets the stage for the epic adventure of Shikanoko.

Japanese history, much like Victorian history, has been an interest of mine for some time. I have long enjoyed reading books set in the Heian era and when I saw this particular book at my local library, I was intrigued. While not set in actual Heian era Japan per se, it is set in a universe that is very very similar. There are, of course, a few minor differences but those only add to the overall story.

For the most part, I enjoyed The Emperor of the Eight Islands. There were a few times where I found the story line becoming jumbled and it became difficult to keep track of who was where. I believe this is because Hearn was trying to juggle four different story lines, trying to introduce all the major players in as few pages as possible. If perhaps they had cut back on a thread or two, then I believe the book would have been an easier read. As this is the first book in a series, Hearn could have easily waited until the second book to introduce some of these characters and expound on their backgrounds.

With the way the story is written, it’s easy to tell this is the first book in a series. Many questions are left unanswered with some handled in a way that is almost jarring. Those who enjoy Heian era inspired stories could enjoy this particular tale. Personally, I won’t be looking for the second book.


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