Lord of the Darkwood: Tale of Shikanoko #3
by Lian Hearn
Review by Judy Newton
FSG Originals Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780374536336
Date: 09 August 2016 List Price $13.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Here's the third installment of Lian Hearn's tale of love and gore in a fantastical medieval Japan, and the plot is advanced toward the inevitable conclusion of Book Four, but there are few dramatic events or terrific set-pieces as there are in the first two, nor any life-changing actions for the main characters. There is, however, an interesting reveal of the mechanism driving the plot.
It's easy to remember the main elements, because these four books are all being released within 2016. An experiment in accelerated episodic storytelling sparked by serials in other media, such as cable TV and digital publishing (see this story on NPR for more), in this case the seams are showing just a little. There's no cliff-hanger at the end to whet your appetite for the last book, just a promise of conclusion. For readers who have made it this far, though, that should be enough.
Several years pass in mid-book, and suddenly the five boys born in the last installment are all grown up. Some have fulfilled their prophesied destiny to become gangsters, ruling traffic through an important trade route. One, Mu, has developed unusual powers, including flight and the ability to bridge the world of men and spirits, and it is he who is visited one day by a tengu. These spirits, who had set an elaborate plan in motion in the very first scene of the first book, had vanished from the human world until now, and are revealed to be the powers behind the plot as they try to re-establish balance to the worlds by restoring the true Emperor to the throne.
Considering all the characters and moving parts, one has to wonder how these tengus' minds work. But then, if Gandalf had just asked the King of the Eagles to fly the One Ring through Mordor and drop it into Mount Doom, we wouldn't have had three books' worth of adventures in Middle Earth, either.
This book sees the emergence of Hina, an underestimated young girl who is coming to understand that she has a destiny more important than she could have imagined in her early life. I'm pulling for her to shine in the conclusion. Meanwhile, the Hidden Emperor and Shikanoko's son (neither of whom know their true identity) move inexorably to their apotheosis. I expect great things.