The Tale of Shikanoko by Lian Hern is a four book series that depicts the life and journey of “deer child” Shikanoko in mythical, magical realism, Feudal Japan. Told throughout many years, the on going tale is a depiction of a Japanese boy turned man who was saved by a magician of sorts that resurrected him and made him the child of a mythical deer. Called “Deer Child” Shikanoko begins his journey in the first book seeking revenge on his uncle who tried to kill him. As he travels through Japan, times are changing as Feudal kingdoms begin to fall and rage wars against each other. The true Emperor, a baby boy named Yoshi, must flee his home and go into hiding where he stays for many years. Because of this, the country suffers as the Gods above strike against the now fake Emperor. Japan becomes a barren, dry country with fires and other natural disasters.
Emperor of the Eight Islands (The Tale of Shikanoko #1)
In this first novel of the series we are introduced to the “hero” of the story, Shikanoko. While this was not his birth name, he adopts this name quickly in the novel when his vengeful uncle tries to kill him during a hunt, throwing him off a cliff just to seize the lands Shikanoko inherited from his father. From there, a magician of sorts rescues him and saves him by using his power that partly comes from nature and combining a mythical Deer with the body of Shikanoko, giving him powers he has never had.
While Shikanoko embarks on a new rebirth journey, there is unrest throughout the country. Two brothers become enemies as their father forces one to marry the other’s wife after his first wife dies. From there, tragedy and war follows. Japan is separated by two warring Feudal kingdoms where a fake Emperor is crowned to overthrow the previous government.
There is a lot happening in this first novel. Sometimes, too much is happening while at other times it is extremely slow and hard to push further. In the end, this is a book that only gets better. Once you pass a certain half way point, or so, the book begins to really evolve. I read this one slower than the other three for sure, but loved it enough to want to continue reading the tale. I highly recommend this series but must warn you: this book is not a true representation of the series. You may want to quit reading it. You may think it is too slow to develop or have important events occur, but the next book is so worth reading. This is a great series as a whole.
Autumn Princess and Dragon Child (The Tale of Shikanoko #2)
In the second book of the series, we encounter a heart broken Shikanoko. His one night lover is gone. He has scared her off because he got consumed by an evil Priest’s powers over him and his deer mask. Frightened, she leaves in the middle of the night with her charge, Yoshi, the true Emperor. But, Shikanoko quickly has other problems. It turns out he is one of five men who has impregnated an ancient spider woman who he had slept with while he was being reborn with the deer’s powers. This woman gives birth to five children that rapidly mature. Each one has a unique ability: from speed to invisibility and beyond. Given names that fit both their personalities and unique abilities, these boys become Shikanoko’s responsibility. Left with five boys to take care of, he becomes quite the busy man.
Meanwhile, Japan is suffering under the hands of the angry Gods as the fake Emperor still rules. The real one is still on the run. The real emperor Yoshi is no longer a child, but growing up to be an older boy. He finds himself separated from the girl who was keeping him safe. His life has become turned upside down. But, as he discovers a new life, trouble still ensues.
This was by far my favorite novel of the series. I read this one must faster than the others. It was fun, at times intense, and intriguing with all the lives of the characters intertwining as they all lead different lives. Learning about the spider children was fascinating. The battles get better. The deaths are more shocking. This was the best of the series because of how everything starts to come together but gets dragged further apart.
There was something special about this one. Seeing Shikanoko grow up as he becomes a father, seeing the “Autumn Princess” Shikanoko’s lost love get captured and tortured, it was part heartbreaking and part fascinating. The drama!! The magical realism gets better. I can’t recommend this one enough. It stands out in the series; and holds up throughout and becomes critical in the storytelling of this tale.
The Lord of the Darkwood
After the death of the Autumn Princess, Shikanoko is heartbroken. He goes forth into the Darkwood forest where only trouble reigns supreme. Shikanoko has abandoned everyone with only few by his side. His mask has become stuck to his face. The struggle is real.
In the interim, his children become adults and begin their lives fatherless for the first time. Some of them come on top, while others struggle with the loss of Shikanoko. Yoshi is living with the Acrobats, living a life of freedom and on the road continuously. Japan continues it slow descent into demise as the fake Emperor gets stronger.
This novel has come close to one of my favorite in the series. The action certainly slows down for Shikanoko as he seeks penance, the action is not so dull for others. There were definitely some scenes that have stick with me. I loved exploring new parts of the forest, seeing how the kids evolve, and seeing the Empire crumble.
The Tengu’s Game of Go (The Tale of Shikanoko #4)
In this final book of the series, everything comes to a halt. Events start ton make sense; more lives become intertwined. This was a very quick and fulfilling read. I loved how everything came together. Revenge happens. Battles happen. Lives are restored. Love is found again. It all just makes sense. Everything goes in the right place.
This may be my favorite the more I think about it. So much happens; there are so many resolutions. There are sad times and happy times. Good things and bad things. In the end though, everything happens for a reason. Forgiveness is earned, not handed out freely. Revenge isn’t always sweet. Happy endings are not a given, but can be accomplished over time.
There were so many good life lessons in this series. There was so much to take with you. Yes, it’s a fantasy novel. No, Japan was not like this; nor, will it ever be. But, damn does Hern tell a good tale. It stuck with me so much that a year later I still want to write about it. I still want people to read it. Just one of those series that is so worthwhile to finish. I can’t recommend it enough. Truly, just get through the first one. By the end of the second you’ll be insatiable; wanting more and more. Give it a try. Choose something different. Take a chance!