The third installment of Hearn's four-part series about mythical medieval Japan offers a relatively less violent hiatus while characters recover from—or succumb to—the emotional, spiritual, and political upheavals they survived in the previous episodes (Dragon Child, 2016, etc.) before they confront their destinies in the final volume.
Yoshi, the hidden emperor, is now a teenager ensconced with a band of acrobats and in love with Kai, who is carrying his child. He both recognizes and fears his destined role as emperor. Yoshi’s supporter and the series' hero, Shika, who went from orphaned noble’s son to outlaw to avenging warrior with supernatural powers in the previous volumes, is now hiding in the Darkwood mourning the death of his great love, the Autumn Princess, and unable to remove the magical deer mask created for him by a sorcerer. Without Shika’s guidance, the superhuman brothers of the Spider Tribe, born to the sorceress Lady Tora, have grown into semihuman adults whose lack of feelings makes them frighteningly amoral and powerful. The Miboshi clan’s Lord Aritomo, who supports the false emperor Daigen, mourns his closest friend Takaakira, who died after announcing that Yoshi should be emperor. Takaakira had loved and protected Hina, daughter of Lord Aritomo’s enemy, the Kuromori lord. Having escaped death herself, Hina’s journey becomes the heart of this novel as she interacts with most of the novel’s other characters either directly or indirectly. Still a child, Hina comes under the protection of Lady Fuji, who runs the pleasure boats and took in Yoshi and Kai in the previous novel. Lady Fuji hides Hina in a temple for women where the Abbess turns out to be Shika’s mother. Though Hina, who had a childhood crush on Shika, does not meet him in this novel, there are hints that their relationship may become pivotal.
While this volume lacks the action sequences and high drama of its predecessors, Hearn continues to explore issues of fate, love, moral failure, and moral redemption through characters both archetypal and heartbreakingly believable.