Raven of The Inner Palace Volume 6: Blood Chains



It’s sad that this story is coming to its inevitable end, but if there’s one thing that Raven of The Inner Palace volume 6 proves, it’s that Kouko Shirakawa can write a damn dense story. Every page and sentence a part of this now six volume story has been unmistakably full of meaning, value and context. Though, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows that pertain to Shouxue (Jusetsu) and Gaojun (Koshun) exclusively. Shirakawa has really proven their ability to extend this story to its supporting cast- but doesn’t cast too wide of a net, either. Side characters, such as some of Jusetsu’s attendants like Jiu-Jiu, remain decorative flowers that adorn the story. On their own, they lack the substance demanded of a character in Raven of The Inner Palace, and as such play purely a secondary role. After all, if we took too much time out for characters like Jiu-Jiu or Tankai (a eunuch serving Jusetsu), we’d have very little space to explore the far more intriguing political and emotional drama centered around the Saname clan and Je Island.

That said, it’s not like Shirakawa completely glosses over some of the more important plot points with those secondary characters. Look at Tankai, for example. The last of the group to be adopted by Jusetsu, he’s always compensated with his playful and sociable personality. Following the events of volume 5 however, Tankai’s mask begins to show cracks after Jusetsu’s secret is revealed. He’s hurt by the fact that he’s isolated from the woman who took him in and cared for him. He couldn’t express the same frustration and care that fellow eunuch Onkei could, and he simply can’t share the same sort of connection that Jiu-Jiu has with Jusetsu. Though his time is very short in this volume, through the experiences of other characters unfolding around Tankai, Shirakawa paints a negative of Tankai’s experience with the entire ordeal.

And there’s a lot of solid examples of that throughout Raven of The Inner Palace volume 6. Though, I’m a massive fan of the struggles that family present twofold here. First, we have Eisei have to own up to the notion that Jusetsu is his half sister. Sure, it’s to save her life, but his struggle with his very own flesh is beautifully highlighted within that struggle. He had no life, he had no person there to help him- until Koshun. He gave his life to Koshun. Not in a figurative or subjective way- Eisei quite literally gave up the agency of his life to serve Koshun, to rid himself of any ties to his own humanity. Because of that, being handed a new thread tying him to the ground has left him frustrated and confused. The very woman threatening Koshun’s position is the one he could call sister (if he chose to). In his eyes, it’s an incredibly sick twist of fate that gave his inner self what he always wanted- but had accepted would never happen. It’s handled wonderfully through the sharpness of Eisei’s personality battling against his faithfulness to Koshun, and is a real highlight of the first third of this sixth volume.

In opposition to that experience though, we spend some time with the first born son of the Saname clan, as well as his younger brother Ko. Much like how Shin returns home for a change of scenery, we get a closer look at the (human) antagonists of the series. Internal strife, confusion, and surprising emotion bubble to the surface and paint a picture of struggle that sees the more aloof second Saname son deliver a foreboding warning to his elder brother. As an isolated story, it truly thrives, and is a great change of pace as it remains quite isolated from the main content of Raven of The Inner Palace volume 6. I’d really love to chat about it some more, but the reveal is just too good to spoil in something as simple as this review- and the conclusion, oh. It’s so wonderfully dramatic and fitting for the series, and a great way of bringing that thread back towards the main story. Also (unsurprisingly), it sets up the foundation for some… interesting, political engagements in the future finale.

Speaking of that, I really can’t get enough of how well intertwined the court drama is with this supernatural story. Of course, it only exists within the scope of Jusetsu’s field of view, but Shirakawa’s managed some truly impressive range here. Their ability to marry the legends and mythos of prior eras with their modern stations has been something else. Though, I can’t really say I’m surprised, considering how well put together the first legend of the Winter and Summer sovereigns was. Anyways, back on track. Every political conversation always remains uniquely tense and telling, weaving together just as many meanings and interpretations as a skilful politician would. Pieces that you heard ages ago always come back to bite you, and the personalities of characters always find a way to shine through. Two great examples of that exist within Raven of The Inner Palace volume 6. The first is the sort of butting of heads between Yozetsu Jikei and Meiin over Jusetsu’s fate. The stern and logical Meiin attempts to corner every individual arguing in favor of Jusetsu, including the kindhearted Yozetsu Jikei- who had strong ties to the previous Ran dynasty. It’s a very strong conversation, and is further improved by Meiin’s disposition against Jikei’s morals and opinions. Similarly, the dynamic between slender and weak Winter Minister Senri and the vengeful scholar Shiki is really something. It places Shiki’s uncertainty and selfishness against Senri’s resolute faith in something aside from himself. To be frank, Senri dances circles around Shiki as an individual, but it’s exactly what Shiki needs in the moment.

All in all though, they’re great examples of Shirakawa’s ability to thoroughly reconcile the two extremes that represent this story in Raven of The Inner Palace volume 6. Space is afforded to build tension and mystique for the finale, and within that gap Shirakawa begins to neatly tie up the loose narrative threads that have been appearing as of late. The series remains an impressive achievement, and though I can bemoan its inevitable end all I want, the fact remains that Shirakawa has certainly positioned themselves to close this story out without a hair out of place. Every page has incredible value- either to the story at large, or the smaller pieces that orbit it- and presents as such a rich historic fantasy drama. I’d never picked up something quite like Raven of The Inner Palace prior to it, but every volume has me questioning why I waited so long for something like this. Because of that, I really can’t wait to see how Shirakawa closes this series out with the final battle between gods, especially considering the series began because an emperor was having trouble sleeping at night.

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