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Publisher's Summary

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.

Critic Reviews

“Fantasy at its best.” ( Quantum)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

Good book; interesting characters, plot, and arc

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.

Narrator:
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.

8 of 8 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Chuck
  • United States
  • 04-07-14

Fun, entertaining, and somewhat unconventional

This was a very good book. The world that Russell creates is beautiful and intriguing. He "paints" a magnificent landscape with gorgeous settings and characters. The writing is pretty good, although it does seem to slip at times, but not so often that it takes away from the overall story. Russell provides a great mix of action, tension, quiet meditation scenes, war, fighting, and court intrigue that keeps the story fresh and keeps the reader engaged.

One thing I did not like was a story line he introduces very early in the book, and to me seemed like it would be central to the book, but he leaves it behind and only touches on it briefly throughout the rest of the book. Maybe he'll spend more time on it in the second book. Other than that, it's a really good book.

Elijah Alexander does a pretty good job with the narration, however, there is something about his voice that took me quite a while to get used to. He is very breathy and often soft spoken which was very distracting for me at first. Most of his character voices are quite good and distinct, but some are just bad, such as the horrible Yoda type voice he uses for one of the minor characters.

Overall, I'd recommend this book. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

FANTASY WITH AN ORIENTAL FLAVOR

If you could sum up The Initiate Brother in three words, what would they be?

Zen Skywalker Saga

Who was your favorite character and why?

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.

Any additional comments?

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.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Better than Lord of the Rings?

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...

8 of 9 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Melissa
  • Woodland, CA, United States
  • 09-20-12

Too Much, Too Fast

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.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

May you find perfection...

This book, while not perfect, is only a few steps from that. It is beautiful and enchanting. Do not miss this first part of the series.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Good read!

Takes the reader to a time when intrigue and subtlety were everywhere and where the impossible became possible. An entrancing read where characters remained consistent and plot lines were not always predictable.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

A real gem

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!

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Good duology starts here

I read both books back to back and would recommend them to readers who don't mind their adventures told at a slightly slower pace, interspersed with some philosophy and a little poetry.

I read and listened. Narration is fine, but not brilliant. It doesnt add value to the storytelling and possibly detracts at times.

A medieval Asian tale (Japanese-Chinese mix) with the slightest fantastical bent, set in a mythical land (see maps) with lords and ladies, peasants and emperors, warriors and monks, politics, lies, and conspiracies, murder, greed, and ambition.

The darkness is offset by several likable and honorable characters who feature across both books. Characterization and character development is a strength, esp for Jaku Tadamoto. Relationships among the allies are heartwarming, and the romance doesn't overwhelm. The plot is unpredictable and twisty, if slow at times. Most events and actions are seen thru the teachings of the Enlightened One, Lord Botahara, The Perfect Master, and a religion similar to Buddhism (but the book is not preachy).

The story rings almost of speculative history with names and places changed, but not quite.

Told in third-person -- the only way to travel!

-----

Main Characters:
(Last names go before first names in this culture, and the honorific suffix -sum may be attached to show friendship or endearment, sometimes replacing the final syllable, so Nishima becomes Nishi-sum)

House Shonto:
Lord Shonto Motoru /Motoro-sum/ Mito-sum
Shonto's adult son Shonto Shokan
Shinto's adult step-daughter Lady Nishima (her friends Lady Kitsura and artist Lady Okara)
Shonto's steward Kamu (one-armed, a famous swordsman in earlier days, meticulous with details)
Shonto's merchant-vassal Tanaka
Shonto's security: Rohku Saicha, Captain of the Guard, 47 years old. (His son Corporal Rohku is a member of Lord Shonto's personal guard.)
Shonto's ally General Hojo Masakado


House Yamaku (displaced the Hanama Dynasty):
Emperor Akantsu II, Son of Heaven
Emperor's consort Sonsa (dancer) Osha-sum
Emperor's men from House Jaku:
General Jaku Katta, advisor to Emperor and Captain of the Imperial Guard, aka The Black Tiger
The youngest of the three Jaku brothers, Yasata had neither the martial skill of Katta nor the intellectual brilliance of Tadamoto.

Jinjoh Monastery / Botahist Brothers:
Supreme Master Brother Nodaku (island monastery)
Brother Shuyun, young neophyte/ initiate
Brother Sotura, Chi Quan instructor
Brother Hutto, Primate of the Floating City of Yankura
Brother Satake, former spiritual advisor to Shonto
etc.


Priory Sisters:
Prioress, Sister Saeja (old nun, head of the Order)
Sister Sutso, Saeja's secretary
Senior Sister Morima
Junior Acolyte Tesseko
Senior Sister Gatsa
etc

Lord Komawara Samyamu from Seh province: Ah, yes, Lord Shonto thought, the same slim build and the long thin nose. If this youth is anything like his father, his apparent lack of muscle is deceptive. The old Komawara had been a strong swordsman and lightning fast.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

amazing!

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

Great story, well written, you want to listen to more

Which character – as performed by Elijah Alexander – was your favorite?

they were all so well done.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

yes, i almost did

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Judy
  • 06-07-11

Terrific!

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.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
  • Kincade
  • 08-28-16

A unique tale of court Intrigue

Would you listen to The Initiate Brother again? Why?

No I already listened to it. Dumb question. Am I buying the sequel? Yes.

Who was your favorite character and why?

Unlike the Goblin Emperor or Imperial Radche where we fall in love with one character this was a nice balance of characters. Shu Lin is the most interesting for obvious reasons but he doesn't talk that much.

What does Elijah Alexander bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you had only read the book?

This was a very high degree of difficulty audiobook. More then 50 Asian characters. Narrator did a good job of having the required 50 voicings and keeping the characters straight in my head. Not the *brilliant* performance of a Luke Daniels or Peter Kenny but a very good performance given the degree of difficulty. I was able to keep the characters straight in my head and was not frequently distracted by the narrator, which is "above average" to me.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

Again this is a dumb question. It is a 17 hour audiobook so no. I finished it in 3 days and am buying the sequel. So I liked it. that's what you want to know right?

Any additional comments?

The narrator has clearly studied Chinese and Japanese dubbed movies. These are typically acted in a "broad" soap opera like manner, and that element is included here. This is not some sort of "culturally insensitive performance" WATCH a Chinese movie, this is what they sound like. So given the challenges in voicing 50 something Asian characters this was a good job.

Books with lots of characters and intrigue can be hard to follow in audiobook format. This story was big and complex enough that I had to engage my brain the whole time but not so big I was frequently confused. A sign of good writing was that any time I began to question a motivation or plot point, a character would soon ask the same question. If you like court intrigue "manners" and the like this was an interesting new setting and an enjoyable audiobook.