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In tetralogies, the third book is perhaps the most difficult. A master storyteller, like a chess player, must move their ensemble cast toward an endgame, but the strategy for getting them there should remain obscure to the reader.

The third book in Lian Hearn’s “The Tale of Shikanoko” fantasy series, set in a parallel version of feudal Japan, fits this archetype. It opens where “Autumn Princess, Dragon Child” left off, with the Prince Abbot defeated and Shikanoko on the brink of losing his humanity. In book three, the focus shifts to Hina — now known as Yayoi — and the five monstrous sons of Lady Tora.

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