The four-book Tale of the Shikanoko series reaches its finale as destiny has its way, determining once and for all who will be emperor of Hearn’s fantasy feudal Japan.
The hidden emperor Yoshi was a small child back in Emperor of the Eight Isles (2016) when he was forced to flee for his life with the Autumn Princess and her stepsister Kai after his uncle Daigen was named emperor. Now grown, Yoshi does not want to acknowledge his royal lineage, preferring a quiet life as an acrobat. But Lord Aritomo of the Miboshi Clan, who has been the force behind Daigen all along, receives reports that Yoshi has been sighted for the first time in 12 years. Ailing yet desperate to outlive friends and foes, Aritomo hopes that by capturing and publicly executing Yoshi he can prove portents, including drought and famine, that Yoshi is the true emperor to be wrong. Aritomo no longer trusts his vassal Masachika, who resembles both Macbeth and Iago in ambition, duplicity, and love for his wife. But if Yoshi’s claim on the throne is a threat to Daigen’s rule, title character Shika’s legendary powers are far more worrisome to Aritomo and Masachika. Over the course of the series, Shika evolved from orphan to bandit to warrior to superpowered half-man/half-beast forced to wear a magically empowered deer mask. He has been living in the Darkwood for years by the time Hina, the central character of Lord of the Darkwood (2016), manages to find him. Her tears of love help Shika remove his deer mask, and she introduces him to his son, Take, born to the Autumn Princess before her death in Autumn Princess, Dragon Child (2016). But will Shika decide to quit his self-exile, and does he have enough martial and supernatural muscle to defeat Aritomo—or to convince Yoshi to take up the mantle and rule?
Expect graphic violence, fairy-tale magic, flights of comedy, and operatic melodrama but also genuine intimacy and tragedy.