Books / Reviews

'Emperor of the Eight Islands' reveals a Japan populated by spirits, ghosts and gods

by Iain Maloney

Special To The Japan Times

Under the pseudonym “Lian Hearn,” Gillian Rubinstein has published six novels set in a fantastical version of Japan’s past, most notably the popular “Tales of the Otori” series. “Emperor of the Eight Islands” is the first in a new four-part series called “The Tale of Shikanoko” that will be published over the course of 2016.

Emperor of the Eight Islands: The Tale of Shikanoko — Book 1, by Lian Hearn
272 pages
FSG Originals, Fiction.

Kazumaru is the only son of a feudal lord who dies after playing Go with a tengu, (mythical goblin-like creature). His uncle remains regent until Kazumaru comes of age, but when it’s time to give up power, the elder is reluctant to relinquish his control and tries to kill Kazumaru on a hunting trip. Instead Kazumaru falls from a cliff with an injured deer. A sorcerer finds him, and imbues the young man with magical powers, turning him into Shiranoko.

As civil war erupts in Japan and brother turns against brother, the rightful heir to the Imperial throne flees the burning capital. What follows is a fast-paced adventure through an alternative Japanese history populated by spirits, ghosts and gods.

This imagined feudal Japan, which attempts to link fantastic characters with actual history, can be frustrating. But the action comes thick and fast, as numerous plots and subplots unfold and branch.

As it is part one, the book stops rather than ends, leaving every plot line unconcluded, but the compelling characters and captivating worldbuilding means readers will look forward to part two — to be published in June — with anticipation.