Lord of the Darkwood, by Lian Hearn

Lian Hearn lives in Australia and writes novels set in Japan. Earlier this year I read her first novel in this series, Emperor of the Eight Islands. Her second, called Lord of the Darkwood, completes the tale of Shikanoko. Unusually, I thought the second book was far better than the first in the series. I found myself more absorbed in the story and gripped by the action. The first book had lots of stories and plots in motion, and this book brought these together in a series of resolutions and conclusions. The characters resolve their destinies and age old family feuds.What also changed was that the story became more lyrical, taking on more of a fantasy or fairy tale quality than before. That may have been because the central character Shikanoko who had been condemned to wear a dear mask and antlers which had become fused to his face, could only have the mask removed by someone who truly loved him. I also liked the concept that the mythical creatures called tengu were using the characters in the story in some kind of chess like game.

What also changed was that the story became more lyrical, taking on more of a fantasy or fairy tale quality than before. That may have been because the central character Shikanoko who had been condemned to wear a dear mask and antlers which had become fused to his face, could only have the mask removed by someone who truly loved him. I also liked the concept that the mythical creatures called tengu were using the characters in the story in some kind of chess like game.

Reading Lord of the DarkwoodI was much more aware of the lyrical and poetic qualities of the writing. For me these should be an important part of any story set in ancient Japan, where the culture of poetry and art were so strong and so revered. Let me quote you and example. Near the end of the book Lady Tama enters her house while there are many guests outside.

“A few lamps had been lit, and their flames burned steadily in the still air. She glanced almost indifferently at the cypress floors, each perfect plank selected by her, at the silk wall hangings and all the valuable carvings and vases that she had chosen and displayed discreetly through the house…Moths were fluttering around the lamp flame and she could hear the thin wining of mosquitoes. From the garden came the melancholy chirping of insects that had only days to live.”

All this is beautifully descriptive and creates just the right atmosphere and tone for the events that are unfolding.

I don’t want to say too much about the plot or the ending, which does not quite conclude as you might expect. I enjoyed the end of the series even though I still struggled a little with the names and places. Too many places and characters begin with M or K and I had to refer to the map or the list of characters sometimes to make sure that I hadn’t misunderstood something. If I were more familiar with Japan or Japanese I’m sure that wouldn’t happen. It is a minor point and it will not spoil the excellent conclusion to this series.

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TITLE: Lord of the Darkwood
AUTHOR(S): Lian Hearn
PUBLISHER: Hachette
RRP: $34.99
ISBN: 9780733635151

Marcus Hobson Marcus was until recently a businessman but has given all that up to follow his lifelong passion to be a writer. With a varied career behind him, including a degree in Ancient and Mediaeval History (and archaeology) he has wide ranging literary tastes from popular fiction to Viking sea burials. He is currently working on his second novel, a mix of fact and fiction set in the First World War (and crossing his fingers about getting his first book published). Marcus lives near Tauranga with his wife and their daughters.

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