Medieval Japan seems a fitting setting for a tale of fantasy and intrigue. In my mind it is a place and era that have taken on phantasmagorical proportions, ripe with dragons, levitating monks and rulers who seemingly lived for thousands of years.
Emperor of the Eight Islands, Book One: The Tale of Shikanoko is the first of four installments by Lian Hern to be released this year from FSG Originals.
I have to admit, I was a bit apprehensive when I opened the book and immediately encountered a five page list of characters, plus a map full of place names. In history classes, my mind would revolt and shut down when confronted with rote memorization of names and dates- I was hungry for the heart of things, the story.
I shouldn’t have worried, flipping furtively past those pages, I soon found enough story to fill the allotted four books, and likely many more. The book is overflowing with the countless adventures and machinations of warriors, demon concubines, orphans who fall from grace, rise to power and fall again, sorcerers tucked away on remote wooded mountains, deer boys forged from magic, sex and pain.
The writing itself is both sparing and intricately gorgeous. The entire book has the feeling of sumi-e, a form of ancient Japanese brush painting. I visualized the tale unfolding in stark black and white, with sudden bold bursts of color. A chaotic cloud of black smoke rising from a burning village at dawn, the delicate white of snowflakes, plum blossoms, freshly snapped stag bones at the bottom of a ravine. A fiery shower of autumn leaves from inky black branches, cinnabar lips and spidery black lashes, blood droplets glistening wetly on an unsheathed sword. Each word a necessity and each image building upon those before it.
What emerges is an intricately woven tale, each life of utmost importance yet also fleeting. Beyond the delightful fantasy world being spun, there is a deeper layer of truth. The author illuminates the unceasing way in which lives effect one other, seemingly disparate and unconnected events stretching out through time and space. Pluck one thread and the results ripple through the entire fabric of the universe.
Emperor of the Eight Islands is on sale April 26th in Paperback from FSG Originals, $14.00 US/ $15.99 Canada.
FSG has been kind enough to offer a copy to one of my readers! Just use the easy Rafflecopter form below to enter. Winner will be chosen at random and will have 48 hours to reply before another winner will be chosen. Open to the US. Sponsor is responsible for fulfillment of prize. I received a free copy of this book but all opinions are my own.