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The Tale of Shikanoko by Lian Hearn – Spoiler Free Series Review

The Tale of Shikanoko by Lian Hearn – Spoiler Free Series Review
Book Name: Emperor of the Eight Islands; Autumn Princess, Dragon Child; Lord of the Darkwood; and The Tengu’s Game of Go
Author: Lian Hearn
Publisher(s): FSG Originals (US 4 book set) Picador (UK 4 book set) / Picador (US & UK 2 book set)
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / Audiobook / Ebook
Genre(s): Fantasy / Historical Fantasy
Release Date: April 26, 2016 (US) January 26, 2017 (UK); June 7, 2016 (US & UK); August 9, 2016 (US & UK); September 27, 2016 (US & UK)

Emperor of the Eight Islands (cover single book)Depending on which edition of these books, you will either have four books or two bind ups containing two books each. The four books are Emperor of the Eight Islands; Autumn Princess, Dragon Child; Lord of the Darkwood; and The Tengu’s Game of Go. This series is set in the same world as the author’s other series, the Tale of Otori, but it occurs 300 years earlier, so you don’t have to read the other series to read this one. It is set in a mythical, medieval Japanese inspired world and follows multiple character perspectives. I’m not going to going too much into the plot as there are so many different threads and I don’t want to spoil it for anyone.

Firstly, the setting is one of my favourite things about this series. From the very beginning of the first book you will become immersed in this world. Within the fantasy genre, readers will often see the typical setting of Medieval Europe but this series does something different and I think readers will appreciate that. My knowledge of medieval Japan is limited however, so I am unable to comment on any inaccuracies. Despite this the worldbuilding is wonderfully done. A map is also provided which is always a good thing in fantasy books. The magic system of this world is very interesting and throughout the books you learn just enough to understand while it still remains quite mysterious. Hearn did a fantastic job at creating this magic system. Worldbuilding is such an important aspect of a fantasy series and this one does not disappoint.

Autumn Princess, Dragon Child (cover)These books weave a wonderful tale of politics and intrigue. Despite the complexity of the interlocking plot lines, it is actually quite an easy read. The writing and simplistic style makes it easy to become absorbed in the story and the world, despite the many different characters and plotlines. Hearn juggles both of these with skill, so you never feel overwhelmed.

The first book in this series was my first book by this author and I found it easy to get into the flow of the writing. The books have a distinct fairy tale/folklore feel to them, due to the detached style of writing. This may not be to everyone’s taste but I personally felt that it worked very well with this story. It does perhaps mean you can’t fully connect with the characters, which may be an issue for some readers. However, I had no issues with it.

Now let’s talk about the plot. It is compelling throughout the series and I found it hard to put down the books because I wanted to know what was going to happen next. It may take a little time to get into the flow of the detached storytelling but after a couple of chapters you will become invested in the story and the characters. As I’ve said this story has many interlocking threads and it switches effortlessly from one to another; the changes in perspective never felt jarring. Hearn also manages to create a wonderful sense of suspense throughout these books and the action scenes are well written.

Lord of the Darkwood (cover)The characters are another strength of the series. However, I think the characters may be an issue for some. Because of the writing style some of them come across as a bit flat because you don’t really get to connect with them, but I found all of the characters to be very well written. The number of characters we follow may also be an issue for some as it can be tricky to keep track of all of them as well as everything that happens. I had no such issues but it is worth noting. A character list is provided which I found to be quite useful, especially when you first start.

The complexity of the characters is one of the great things about this series. Many of the characters are anti-heroes; in that they do both good and bad things, but you still end up rooting for them. Nothing is black and white.

The Tengu’s Game of Go (cover)

They are all complex and they all have flaws. A small complaint is some of the women of this series are a little lacking. I wanted more depth at times, but overall the characters are very well written. The dialogue and interactions between characters throughout the series is done well too.

Overall this is a fantastic series set in a distinct world with interesting characters and a compelling plot. I found it to be quite a unique series, both in the sense of the story and writing, which I thought was quite refreshing. I found these books to be engaging, action packed and enjoyable reads that left me wanting more. If you enjoy fantasy that reads like a fairy tale or are looking for a fantasy series that isn’t set in the typical Medieval European setting, then I think this is well worth checking out.

Also if you enjoy morally ambiguous characters then these books are well worth a read. I will say that there are quite dark themes in these books so it is most likely aimed towards an older audience. As you can probably tell I very much enjoyed these books and I will definitely be on the lookout for any new releases from this author.



  1. Avatar J says:

    I loved the Otori books (tho I’ve not finished the last one yet) and then I didn’t get these b/c I saw so many reviews saying they were not as good…and had a ton of rape in them. :-/
    And you say here the female characters are a bit lacking; I found the women in the Otori books to be even more (or at least just as) engaging and memorable as the guys…. So it feels to me like these books are perhaps a step down. But maybe I’ll try one someday. Or maybe just finish/reread the first series!

    • Avatar Pippa says:

      I’ve only read the first book in the Otori books and really enjoyed it so I hope to finish that series too. I would definitely recommend this series. Yes there is rape in it and it does have some quite dark themes but they are very well written and engaging books.

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