Emperor of the Eight Islands by Lian Hearn, published by Hachette, RRP $30.
Emperor of the Eight Islands by Lian Hearn, published by Hachette, RRP $30. Photos Contributed

Book review: Emperor of the Eight Islands

SET in the mystical and brutal times of medieval Japan, Emperor of the Eight Islands is the first book in a two-part saga.

It is a wonderfully evocative tale of a world set 300 years before Lian Hearn's best-selling Tales of the Otori series. (The Otori series sold 40 million copies worldwide).

Mixing fantasy, mythology, adventure, espionage and romance, this book was great fun to read, especially as I was in Japan at the time.

The characters are many and varied, perhaps a little hard to follow at first, but don't be put off, as there is a helpful map and list of characters in the front of the book, making it quite easy to work out (something not so easily done with an ebook, I might add.)

The story begins when Shikanoko's power-hungry uncle tries to kill him during a deer-hunt.

Both the boy and deer fall over a cliff at the same time, with the deer softening the boy's fall, thus saving his life.

The boy vows from then on that he will never kill a deer, and takes the deer's valuable skull and antlers.

Shisoku, a mountain sorcerer, fashions these into a magical mask that gives Shikanoko powers.

While he is learning to harness the powers of the mask, a bitter feud is being fought between warring clans, and the Crown Prince is murdered and his throne usurped.

The true emperor, who is only a young boy, must be kept safe and hidden until it is time for him to rightfully take the throne.

Themes of honour and integrity run throughout the book and mix with Japanese mythology, customs and ritual that paint a picture of an intriguing ancient time. There are ghosts and guardian spirits, sword-wielding princesses, wolves, horses and strange creatures like werehawks. And like The Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones series, Lian Hearn's book will be enjoyed by teenagers and adults.

I had loved the author's previous books, especially Across the Nightingale Floor with its Zen-like depictions of Japanese gardens, the dark and misty mountains, fierce warlords and samurai warriors. Emperor of the Eight Islands is a wonderful story to escape into that I can thoroughly recommend, and I eagerly await the sequel.

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