It is always a special read when reading a Lian Hearn book. The poetry in her language, the way she describes things, how she brings the different lifestyle of Asia alive, and makes you a part of it. Her writing-style maybe not for everyone – but for me always a good choice to spend some hours reading. And the second book of this dilogy (all four English books were published in Germany as two hardcovers) was no exception.

Fürst Des Schwarzen Waldes*
by Lian Hearn
Translation Sibylle Schmidt
Original Title The Tale Of Shikanoko Lord Of The Darkwood
Publisher Fischer Sauerländer on February 22, 2018
Genre Young Adult
Pages 512
Format Hardcover
Source Publisher

“Once upon a time, I swore”, Shikanoko said. “I swore to find Yoshimori – and make him ruler over the land.” The merciless fight for the throne reaches its climax. And none other than Shikanoko can save the country from its downfall. (personal translation ©Vi at Inkvotary)

Shikanoko is still wearing his mask. He knows that only the woman, who truly loves him, will be able to take her off his face. Until then, he has to live his life half-human, half deer, and do everything in his power to help the real emperor to gain power again.

I am always amazed by how the author does it. Her writing style is soft, the words sound like a melody and you get a deep insight into how the Asian people of a certain century thought about honor, betrayal, life, and everything around it. It is the Asian flair, the mythology of that country, and how people live with it, which gives Lian Hearn´s books the impression they have on its readers. Being flawed is like a curse and some figures in this novel have to live with it like others live in great luxury. Lian Hearn shows all that and so much more in a wonderful to read a story. Good, there are some parts of the story that might not be as amusing to read as the rest of the book. And yes, some of them seem to be what I call “stretching material” but those parts aren´t that long or often to find, so I guess they don´t really count. Maybe I should give you a bit of a warning, too. Some parts of this novel are brutal and very bloody. Always told in an appropriate way, but still. It fits completely into the story the author is telling and might look a bit strange at first. But the more you read, the more it makes sense.

What I definitely liked about this novel is, that towards the end, the author closes the circle to her Tale of the Otori saga, and with that, I got some answers I had since reading that saga some years ago. This novel is full of mythical creatures, superstition, and the belief that something bigger is in everything. In combination with nature, the figures do everything they can to survive. And with that, I am not only talking about where to get your next meal or something to drink. No, I mean this in a more profound way.

For Shikanoko nature is everything. He needs the silence and secrecy of the wood to stay literally sane. Not being able to take the mask off is pure torture to him. But one, that is self-inflicted. On the other hand, he believes that there must be a reason for it, that he has to fulfill a higher purpose, something he doesn´t really know yet. The way how he changes over the years, how he handles things, how he acts and how he figures out what he has to do in the end to turn things around, is described in a warm and sensitive though often brutal and bloody way.  

The great closure to this dilogy. And by the way, you get some answers to questions that were still open from her Otori saga. If you´ve read those books as well, you can see that the circle got its final closure in a very harmonic and beautiful way. But it isn´t essential to know that saga. You don´t need that knowledge while reading The Tale of Shikanoko, to understand the story.  

Happy reading

*This book was kindly provided to me by Fischer Sauerländer in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. Thank you. Therefore, the cover of the German edition is shown first in this review.

*Title was published Lord of the Darkwood by Hachette Australia on August 9, 2016. 

Lian Hearn
Lian Hearn ©Klim Daskyuk

Lian Hearn was born in 1942 and grew up in Nigeria and the UK. She studied modern languages and subsequently worked as a film critic and editor in the UK before emigrating to Australia. She is the author of numerous children´s and young adult books, for which she has received several awards. A lifelong interest in Japan and its culture led her to learn Japanese and to travel the country countless times. Lian Hearn now lives in Goolwa, Australia.


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