The second book in “The Tale of Shikanoko,” Lian Hearn’s four-part fantasy series, necessarily suffers from having neither a real beginning nor an end. “Autumn Princess, Dragon Child” spends most of its time picking up the pieces left over from the previous denouement and getting everybody in position for the coming climax. It is a book that cannot stand alone and requires a good grasp of the various characters and their shifting loyalties.
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That said, there is much in this novel to keep the reader hooked and keen to see where the stories go. Much like the second season of “Game of Thrones,” the main protagonists are young and inexperienced. The “Game of Thrones” comparison holds water in another way: Everyone is on the move, and the roads of this fictional, fantastical Japan are jammed with hunters and their prey. Akihime and Yoshimori, the true Emperor, are on the run, while Lord Kiyoyori’s daughter Hina is held hostage in a velvet cage, awaiting marriage to her late father’s enemy. Shikanoko, the hero of book one, plays a more peripheral role, licking his wounds from his first encounter with the powerful Prince Abbot and preparing for a second, final battle.
Lian Hearn’s compulsive storytelling and vivid imagination light up this world of violence and suffering, which — combined with some memorable characters — make this more than a stepping-stone novel. Part three and four follow later this year and only then will we know how the destination compares to the journey.
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