Lord of the Darkwood by Lian Hearn

‘The girl could see nothing.  Her lungs were bursting.’

This is the third instalment of Lian Hearn’s historical fantasy fiction ‘The Tale of Shikanoko’, set in a fantasy version of medieval Japan.   This is a series where the books need to be read in order, for the story won’t make much sense otherwise.

The first two books have introduced the key players, explained their stories and why the land is unsettled.  The rule of the false emperor Daigen has disturbed the harmony of the Eight Islands with.  drought and famine.  The true emperor, Yoshi, remains hidden among the acrobats of the Riverbank People.  Shika remains in the Darkwood, unable to remove the magical deer mask created for him. Much of this novel focusses on Hina’s journey.  Hina, daughter of Kiyoyori, has fled her home, and while her fate seems tied to Shika’s, her journey will be a slow one.

In the meantime, the five brothers of the Spider Tribe have grown into powerful, semi human adults.  Will Shika regret not having killed them when he had the opportunity to do so?

Although the action in this novel seems slower than in the first two instalments, this novel serves to consolidate the story, and continues to explore the themes of love, fate, failure and redemption already in play.

Can Shika be released from his magical mask? Will Hina finds what she is seeking in the Darkwood? I was glad, when I finished this novel, that I had the fourth and final novel to hand.  So many questions still to be resolved.  So many obstacles to be overcome.

I love this series.  I’ve already bought copies of the novels because I know this is a series I will reread, as I have the ‘Tales of the Otori’ series.

Note: My thanks to Farrar, Straus and Giroux and NetGalley for providing me with a free electronic copy of this novel for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

#AWW2016

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