The final installment of Lian Hearn’s “The Tale of Shikanoko” series delivers on the promise of the previous three books, tying up loose ends and dispensing justice on the deserving. Tom Stoppard famously defined tragedy as “the bad end unhappily, the good unluckily,” and it would perhaps be more fitting to call this series “The Tragedy of Shikanoko.” After numerous battles, suicides and executions, Hearn’s mythical version Japan is littered with corpses.
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“The Tengu’s Game of Go” is a study in power politics. Lord Aritomo desperately seeks immortality in order to impose his “will on an entire realm” for eternity, but disease and time are not on his side. Masachika’s ambitions falter on his inability to produce an heir, while Lady Natsue and her son, Diagen, the usurping Emperor, live in the shadow of Yoshi, the true Emperor. Even Shikanoko’s past corruption must be punished.
In the end, the only one worthy of rule is the only one with no ambition: Yoshi fights against his birthright until the very end, playing out the old adage that anyone who desires power should be automatically disqualified from wielding it. He wants to live a quiet life with his acrobat friends but in Hearn’s universe free will is an illusion. He was born to be emperor and fate demands he play his role.
Over the series’ four volumes Hearn has woven a rich, bloodsoaked tapestry and created a world that demands to be revisited.
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