Autumn Princess, Dragon Child (The Tale of Shikanoko, #2)
by Lian Hearn
Review by Judy Newton
FSG Originals Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780374536329
Date: 07 June 2016 List Price $14.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK
The adventure continues. When last we left our hero, Shikanoko, a young boy of medieval Japan who had been relieved of his estate by his evil uncle, he was about to realize his destiny as a mighty sorcerer. He had gained knowledge and power, even raising the spirit of a dead lord to inhabit the body of a foal. With the help of a timely earthquake, he seemed to be headed toward retaking his patrimony on the way to even greater conquests.
Yet, alas! Since this is to be a four-book series, we as readers know there must be impediments strewn in his way, and so there are. Shikanoko made a grave moral mistake at the very end of the first book. Now, the Autumn Princess flees through the wild forest in company with the boy who is the True Emperor, deposed through the scheming of important men. She is pregnant with Shikanoko's child. They are sheltered by a band of monkeys.
Meanwhile, comic relief is provided by a couple of displaced guardian spirits, quarrelling like an old married couple, and a band of offspring of the Lady Tora (a character based on the Spider Woman, an actual character from Japanese folklore). Shikanoko is responsible for at least some of each boy's DNA. Yes, this lad gets around!
These five boys manage to appear at once endearing and terrifying-- they embody the moral ambiguity that runs through these books like a bloody river, just one element of their fascination. Seemingly without compunction prompted by any hint of a conscience, the Spider Tribe is held (barely) in check by their loyalty to Shikanoko. I just bet they will cause much mischief and plot points in the next three books.
Oh, and remember the Dragon Child who lives under the lake? He makes an appearance at the very end of this book. I will forgive this use of a dragon-ex-machina only if I see a lot more of him in the two volumes to come. Meanwhile, slog on, Shikanoko! Your fans wish you well (but only after many further adventures)!