The Emperor in Shadow
by Richard Parks
Diamond Book Distributors
The Emperor is dying. Once again Lord Yamada is called with Kenji to ensure the next emperor is peacefully transitioned to the throne. An onibe directs Yamada to protect Princess Tagako (as she is told the same in dreams--or is she warned away from him?). There are multiple attempts on the life Princess, due to being promised in marriage to a mysterious suitor, and Yamada must find a way to protect her life and get to the bottom of these plots against her life.
This novel deserves brings the series to a satisfying close; however, it doesn't stand alone. It stands on the shoulders of its predecessors. The B story, or the secondary narrative, is strong, but the A story is difficult to tease out.
Yamada's mission isn't clear. He runs into characters from the early stories--the fox demon, his ghostly former lover--who hint and feint at his goal but it remains ever elusive ("I promise to enlighten you, but not just yet." and later, "Why? I haven't the faintest idea"). The narrator sometimes tips his hands to the missing A story in dialogue exchanges like "I'm bored." The narrative quickly shifts into action as the author seems to realize these words. This doesn't indicate a boring narrative, but one that merely escapes a definitive goal. It is understandable to hide major plot movements outside Yamada and his companions, but we do need characters who desire--as Kurt Vonnegut put it--"a glass of water."
The story's narrative arch doesn't get fully assembled until toward the last tenth of the novel, some of which the readers will have guessed since the primary story didn't distract us readers enough. Moreover, the master skills Yamada had in the first book seem to have eroded.
If you've read the first three, then definitely read this one. It completes the series and Yamada's journey--one he might not have realized he was on.