Lord of the Darkwood: Book 3 in the Tale of Shikanoko

Lian Hearn (Autumn Princess, Dragon Child) explores the aftermath of death, betrayal and destruction in the third of her four-volume medieval Japanese epic. Triumph has twisted into tragedy for Shikanoko, the warrior-turned-sorcerer. After the fiery destruction of Prince Abbott and the death of lovely Akihime at Ryusonji, Shikanoko has shunned those he swore to protect. Now with a magical mask fused permanently to his face, he hovers dangerously between the human world, on which he has a tenuous grasp, and spiritual death, toward which he is descending in grief. Shikanoko flees to the heart of the Darkwood, accompanied by three others who have been victimized by Prince Abbott and the traitorous Masachika.

Meanwhile Hina and Takeyoshi--the last remaining child of Shikanoko's mentor and Shikanoko's young son, respectively--have escaped from Masachika, and they are rescued and adopted by a performing troupe of acrobats. They train Takeyoshi in their skills while pressing Hina into prostitution aboard their pleasure vessels.

Without Shikanoko as moral guide, his adopted quintuplet sons descend into an almost primitive existence, with the two eldest locked in a spiritual battle between good and evil. Now, as everyone faces the consequences of Shikanoko's actions, they must find some way to redeem him or destroy him for control of the kingdom.

Lord of the Darkwood is a study in contrasts among its protagonists; it is also a celebration of the moral and spiritual, and the role that destiny plays in effecting change in a doomed world. Hearn does a great job setting readers up with hope and a sense of redemption in what is certain to be an emotional conclusion to this brilliantly conceived series. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

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