Would that all 4-book series were published this way! Emperor of the Eight Islands (review here), book 1 in The Tale of Shikanoko, came out on April 26 of this year. The remaining three books—Autumn Princess, Dragon Child; Lord of the Darkwood; and The Tengu’s Game of Go—were all released in the next five months, with the final book out September 27. They’re also admirably brief, each weighing in at fewer than 300 pages.
It all adds up to a tale that’s at once epic and digestible. A tale that balances modern storytelling with the Japanese classics. A tale that balances the superversive with deep tragedy. A tale that’s hard to write a review of because it’s so uniformly excellent.
Autumn Princess, Dragon Child picks up after the horrific events that closed book 1, and it ends on a similarly dark note. It also moves very quickly. Lord of the Darkwood, on the other hand, is the true bridge book of the four. Book 2 ends several plot threads (and lives along with them). Book 3 explores the new ones it started, giving them time to grow. A lot of time—far more time elapses (over a decade) in Book 3 than in any of the other books. It’s the sort of thing that can be dissatisfying and very frustrating when you’re waiting two years between books (think The Path of Daggers or Crossroads of Twilight from the Wheel of Time books), but it’s no problem at all when you can just pick up the next book (especially when the book is short to begin with).
I read Ken Liu’s The Grace of Kings not that long before picking up Emperor of the Eight Islands, and Liu’s sequel The Wall of Storms is going to be my next read after The Tengu’s Game of Go. It should be no surprise that I associate the two, even going so far as to give the Tale of Shikanoko books the tag for the sub-genre Liu named—silkpunk. The big thing is that they both owe very much to the classics. Of course Liu is looking to the Chinese classics while Hearn is looking to the Japanese classics, but I don’t know that that distinction is that important. Liu, after all, is quite open that he is looking to Western classics as well (and to modern works with the same sort of scope and feel like War and Peace). Liu is also serious about the punk half of silkpunk. That mainly comes through in the technology (battle kites and airships and rudimentary submarines) in The Grace of Kings, but Liu promises a deep look at social design in The Wall of Storms. The Tale of Shikanoko is very much about the restoration of the rightful emperor. But it’s also clear that the empire has changed indelibly and largely for the good.
5 of 5 Stars.
Disclosure: I received a complimentary advance copy of Autumn Princess, Dragon Child; Lord of the Darkwood; and The Tengu’s Game of Go via NetGalley.