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The Initiate Brother (1991)

by Sean Russell

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: The Initiate Brother (1)

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418643,457 (4.09)16
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 Advisers 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 House 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 the 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 Adviser 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....… (more)
  1. 00
    The Killing Moon by N. K. Jemisin (reconditereader)
    reconditereader: Some of the same themes, very different setting and relationships. Both excellent, vibrant books.
  2. 00
    The Paladin by C. J. Cherryh (Anonymous user)
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» See also 16 mentions

English (5)  Italian (1)  All languages (6)
Showing 5 of 5
After a plague ravaged the Empire of Wa, there’s a new dynasty on the throne. And many who were once powerful are out of favor with the Emperor. Among these are the Botahist Monks, who have a unique control over their perception of time and their internal energy. They’ve been spiritual advisers to the court for a thousand years, but now their position is threatened. However, the Emperor views his greatest enemy of all as Lord Shonto, the powerful head of a great house and adopted father of Lady Nishima, the last surviving member of the old dynasty. The Emperor has hatched a plan to rid himself of Lord Shonto, but he didn’t count on Lord Shonto’s new spiritual adviser, the Brother Shuyun.

Going into The Initiate Brother, I was unsure how it would end up treating its female characters. Fantasy novels aren’t always great about remembering that women exist and actually do things, but in this regard The Initiate Brother ended up being better than I feared. There’s multiple female characters who (*gasp*) interact with each other! While I don’t think it’s a fantasy series I’d recommend if you’re specifically looking for female characters, it is at least decent in that regards. I would have liked to see more of Lady Nishima’s relationship with Lady Okara, her artistic mentor.

As you can probably tell by the names, the setting has clear influences from East Asia, China and Japan specifically. For instance, the Botahist Monks are clearly analogous to Buddhism. So far I haven’t found any Chinese or Japanese reviewers talking about how well they thought the cultural elements were handled. If anyone knows of a review like this, I would love a link.

While I did enjoy parts of this book (particularly sections focusing on Lady Nishima), I also found it very slow moving. The end of the book cuts off very abruptly, making it more of a “Part One” than a stand alone story. While the copy I’m reading is a bundle of both books in the duology, I’m taking a break in between books in search of something with a faster pace. I am planning on coming back to the series when I’m in the mood for slower paced intrigue, but right now I have an itch for something with more action.

Originally posted on The Illustrated Page. ( )
1 vote pwaites | Dec 26, 2016 |
ORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.

War and plague have recently swept across the kingdom of Wa, leaving a new emperor feeling insecure on his throne. He feels threatened by the ancient houses of Wa, and most especially by the revered Lord Shonto, an intelligent and highly competent man. When the emperor appoints Shonto as governor of the northern province of Seh, Shonto isn’t sure if this is an honor, or a trap.

Both men have some excellent allies. Shonto has adopted the lovely and gifted Lady Nishima, the last heir of the former empire, and has recently secured as his spiritual advisor the Botahist monk Shuyun who is recognized by his brothers as the most promising monk in ages. He has also befriended a minor lord from the North who has little influence in that region, but seems to see things more clearly than his elders do. The emperor’s staff includes handsome and clever General Jaku Katta, the famous kickboxer, and Jaku’s clever young brother.

Of course, all of these allies — Lady Nishima, Shuyun, Jaku Katta — have their own human desires and concerns. For example, Shuyun is worried about the Botahist order — the ancient scrolls are missing, and some of his brother monks have disappeared. When he leaves his monastery, he sees things which make him question some of the teachings of his faith.

As you can tell by the names, Sean Russell’s The Initiate Brother, first published in 1991, is an Eastern-flavored fantasy similar to Lian Hearn’s Tales of the Otori and Guy Gavriel Kay’s Under Heaven. The Initiate Brother also reminds me of GGK’s work because it’s full of fascinating twisty political intrigue and there’s a large cast of realistic and appealing characters who we get to know well when we’re privy to their internal thoughts. If you’re a fan of GGK, you’re almost certain to enjoy The Initiate Brother (and you probably won’t mind the frequent POV shifts).

The occasional use of short Japanese poems and a strategy game similar to the ancient Chinese boardgame Go, add to the world-building and inspire the story. The plot, which is layered with conflict and intrigue, gradually and inexhaustibly rises to a tense climax at the end of the novel. Then it stops. I was sorry that I didn’t have the sequel, Gatherer of Clouds, on hand to begin immediately, but I will be picking it up soon — it promises plenty of excitement and I look forward to finding out what happens to these interesting people.

I listened to Blackstone Audio’s production of The Initiate Brother, read by Elijah Alexander. Mostly I enjoyed Mr. Alexander’s narration — he has a superb reading voice. However, because the cast of characters was so large, he used a couple of annoying techniques to distinguish minor characters. For example, in this ancient Oriental culture, the merchant Tanaka has a Boston accent and a female nun sounds like a Chicago mobster. More distracting, though, was what happened when Mr. Alexander ran out of voices. Instead of recycling, he gave each new character a peculiar speech tempo which often makes the character seem like he has a speech impediment or, worse, like he is mentally disabled. I doubt that this is what Sean Russell intended for his emperor. Realizing that such a large cast must be problematic for an audiobook reader, I’m willing to overlook this little quirk — and I’ll be happily reading the sequel on audio. ( )
  Kat_Hooper | Apr 6, 2014 |
Excellent read! I've read this series at least 5 times and am sure I'll read it again. Love the writing and the characters are amazing. ( )
  Judith_Lee | Feb 25, 2013 |
A spell-binding journey through a time of spiritual awakening and political upheaval. Russell's characters are wholly believable, in an unbelievable context.What initially hooked me were the feats of the young Shuyun. What kept me involved to the end were the intrigues and maneuvering of the court, the insights into history, the culture of honor and barbarism, and the supremely "present" feel of everything from the terrain to the dust- and sweat-covered leather tack on the horses.While the environment is clearly a idealized and indeterminate Asia, and the kung fu perhaps a little too mythical, these things only increased my enjoyment of the unfolding plot. Like the origami flower sent to an over-eager suitor, the written words are only one layer of meaning in a fascinating message. ( )
1 vote dogrover | Aug 24, 2010 |
This is a masterful work of fiction. Set in a land that is not - quite - Ancient China, it abounds with political intrigue, dynastic warfare, lust, spirituality, and growth.

The main character is a young monk with an awe-inspiring ability in their martial arts form. Patterned off of the Shaolin monks and the inter sectarian infighting between various Buddhist orders, this Bottahist faith seems very familiar. However the characters are memorable and you quickly find yourself identifying with one or more of the young protagonists, caught up in grand destinies not even envisioned in their wildest dreams. You get so caught up in the intrigue and twisting plots, this book is definitely hard to put down. ( )
1 vote Valkitty | Feb 24, 2008 |
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» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Sean Russellprimary authorall editionscalculated
Tobin, PatMapssecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Whelan, MichaelCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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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 Advisers 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 House 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 the 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 Adviser 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....

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