Emperor of the Eight Islands by Lian Hearn
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Really good stuff, right up until the end. Love the intrigue, the mysterious and unexplained magic, Japanese folk creatures, and interconnected characters and narratives. Every small win turns a corner into another disaster. As I read, I really started looking forward to the next three books, and how this twisty tale was going to unfold and resolve itself.
Now for the part that dropped my star rating from a four to a three. Spoilers ahead. CW: rape.
I am really upset about the rape-as-motivation for Aki to leave Shika and lose trust in him. I don’t care that he was magically manipulated/compelled by the Prince Abbott–Hearn has introduced the possibility that Aki is the woman Skika is meant to marry. I don’t like spoilers, but I actually flipped through the end of book four to make sure Shika and Aki didn’t reconcile and end up together because I am not here for rape apology, women marrying their rapists, rape as easy trauma, or rape as motivation. Writers can and should do better and be more creative. The Prince Abbot also magically manipulated/compelled Shika to attempt to kill Yoshi, which is motivation enough to make Aki feel unsafe and untrusting and leave him. Narratively, the rape is unnecessary.
I didn’t see any evidence that Aki and Shika reconcile by the end of the series. What I skimmed sounded as though they have been sundered forever and Shika regrets his assault on her for years to come. I’m hopeful that’s correct and I didn’t miss anything. If I encounter anything to the contrary as I continue reading, I’m DNF-ing this series.
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