Plague and warfare have swept across the Orient, ravaging the ancient kingdom of Wa, devastating the royal line, and leaving a new dynasty on the throne—a new emperor, Akantsu, filled with fear of all who might seek to wrest the empire from his grasp. Among those out of favor with the new liege is the Order of the Botahist Monks, whose mystical powers have enabled them to hold positions as spiritual advisors to the imperial court for nearly ten centuries. But Emperor Akantsu fears none so greatly as he does Lord Shonto, the brilliant leader of the most important of the old families, whose influence could rally the great houses against the throne and whose adopted daughter, the beautiful and talented Lady Nishima, is the last surviving member of the old royal family.
Sent to be military governor of a northern border province long threatened by barbarian invaders, Lord Shonto knows he is being lured to his death. But Akantsu has underestimated his foe, for not only is Lord Shonto the greatest military genius of the age but he has with him a spiritual advisor from the Botahist order—a young man gifted with extraordinary martial arts skills and magical abilities, Initiate Brother Shuyun. And even Lord Shonto does not realize the true potential of this young monk. Only time will reveal that Shuyun’s magical powers have not seen their equal in nearly a thousand years—not since the Perfect Master himself walked the paths of the empire.
©1991 Sean Russell (P)2011 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
“Fantasy at its best.” (Quantum)
I enjoyed this book and its sequel. Russel could have easily split this book into two or three--but instead creates a great semi-epic work. This is good writing, with an interesting plot that keeps you reading. However, if you are looking for a non-stop action ride this isn't your book.
It has the setting and plot for a 'coming of age' epic adventure, but Russell clearly didn't want to write that kind of book. The main character has the mysterious strength/ability/power and the setting is a multi-layered epic struggle of the characters' personal beliefs, set under the larger struggle between political families/entities, set under the larger epic struggle between nations/peoples, again set under the still larger struggle of ideologies/religions. While at first the setting leads you expect a coming of age story of a mystical warrior--the coming of age is really about the spiritual identity of the character and the nature of his reality--not his physical abilities (although that is developed in the book, too).
There is action in this series (wars, assassinations, fights, kick-boxing tournament, etc.), but they are almost downplayed at times. For instance, the central character competes in a kickboxing tournament, fighting something like a half-dozen matches, but Russell skims over almost all physical the action as if it is entirely irrelevant until the last match.
While I do enjoy a true action packed epic--this was a well written and enjoyable book. As was its sequel.
The narrator is fine. However, he's one of those narrators which would do best by simply reading the book and not trying to push his voice into a variety of characters. His effort to do so is a little comical at times--two of the minor characters' voices are just silly. One is a bad Yoda impression and the other is straight out of good fellas (odd in this feudal Asian society). Luckily these characters have minor roles, so it doesn't get annoying.
This book is unconventional in that there is not as much action and combat compared to a typical fantasy book. However, the story still kept me riveted, and I'm usually the lots-of-explosions-or-else-zzz kind of guy. The setting, storytelling and immersion in an interesting culture all add a wonderful depth.
The only bad thing is that the sequel isn't available on Audible at this time. Tsk!
Zen Skywalker Saga
The initiate brother himself, of course, although the novel is filled with wonderful characters. This is a classic Joseph Campbell hero story set in a fascinating fantasy world evocative of Japanese samurai, Chinese myths and martial arts. It's Star Wars for adults with political intrigue, layered motives and nuanced characterizations. This is no comic book, but a thoroughly conceived, multidimentional world.
Enjoy the twists of a plot as intricate as one of those carved ivory balls-within-balls where every part moves independently but all are part of the whole.
This book and the sequel, Gatherer of Clouds, form one of the best fantasy epics of all time. In fact, for my money, these two books are better than the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Initiate Brother Shuyun is one of the great characters to ever live. Yes I said "live" because Sean Russell makes Shuyun and the other characters live. The Empire of Wa is so real that you cannot help but inhabit that world long after you read the book. The poetry is exquisite, the language is beautiful, and the religious tension is perfect.
The narration is quite good. I have read these books in paperback 3 times (this is my first listen and my fourth "reading") and the narrator certainly enhanced the experience. In the future I will prefer to listen rather than to get out the paperback copies. I especially love the voice of Brother Shuyun. The narrator exudes "tranquility of purpose."
Buy this book and you will never regret it!
I cannot wait to have some more of Sean Russell's books recorded for audio! Such as the fabulous "Moontide and Magic Rise" and "River into Darkness" sagas. Come on audible, make it happen...
I think I'm going to have to read this book in print before listening to it again. The narrator seems to read fairly quickly, which isn't a problem, per se, except that it gives everything a breathless urgency which doesn't quite seem to fit the first chapter that I listened to.
The other problem for me are the names. With as quickly as the narrator goes, it's difficult for me to keep the names straight, especially since, sadly, they run together, being unfamiliar.
The story itself seems interesting, but there was an odd jump from the first chapter to the second (which was as far as I listened), that left me confused.
Set in medieval Japan, this book quietly drew me in. Not an overly complicated plot but the characters are full-bodied and believable. I was particularly taken with the Botahist monk perhaps because he reminded me of the television series with Grasshopper.
The attention to detail, the poetry, the cha (tea) rituals, the calligraphy - all have a very Japanese feel about them and the description of the landscapes and the clothing always felt very integral and not at all like 'padding'.
The reading is brilliant. The speaker has a feel for the way of making his voice autocratic Japanese without attempting accents - and his ability to speak in a female voice is excellent.
The only disappointment was to find that the story is in two parts and part one had come to an end. I hadn't known that there is a sequel to it - which as yet, is not in the Audible library.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and look forward to the Gatherer of Clouds.
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