Autumn Princess, Dragon Child: Book 2 in the Tale of the Shikanoko

Emperor of the Eight Islands, the first volume of Lian Hearn's medieval Japanese fantasy series, set the scene for an epic battle between warring clans and the redemption of a fallen hero. Warrior and budding sorcerer Shikanoko betrays the people he swore to protect--the Autumn Princess (Akihime) and the Hidden Emperor (Yoshimori)--and forms a union with the conniving Prince Abbot to strengthen his influence on the Lotus throne, before being attacked by a pack of horses loyal to Akihime and Yoshimori.

Autumn Princess, Dragon Child begins with mountain sorcerer Shisoku and the pregnant Lady Tora finding and nursing the injured Shikanoko back to health. When Lady Tora dies after childbirth, Shikanoko, against Shisoku's advice, raises the not-quite-human quintuplet boys as his own, intending to use their powers in his quest for redemption. Meanwhile, the two warring clans plot to capture and use Yoshimori and Akihime to advance their own agendas. The finale leads to a deadly showdown between the powerful Prince Abbot and Shikanoko, who stands to lose all that is precious to him.

Hearn's narration jumps among many points of views in plot twists so thickly and intricately woven as to resemble an Asian soap opera, paving the way to its cliffhanging end. One hopes that the series' final two novels answer the many lingering questions Hearn leaves. Yet there is much to appreciate about Hearn's efforts: she nails the mythological details of her alternate reality, and she imbues this story with the same sort of spirituality that won her Tales of the Otori series high acclaim. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

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