Author / Sean Russell
Publication Date / 1991 and 1992
Series or standalone / Duology
Page no. / 784 (bind-up)
Overall Rating / ★★★★
Goodreads synopsis of book 1: Plague and warfare has 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 wriest 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 Adviseres 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 infludence 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 Adviser from the Botahist Order–a young man gifted with extraordinary martial 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…
This is a fantastic fantasy duology set in an East Asian inspired world with well written characters and compelling plot. I didn’t know much about this book when I picked it up but I’m very glad I did. I ended up loving this book. Firstly I think the world is so well written. From the very beginning I was immersed in the world and I loved the way the author slowly revealed more of it throughout the duology. There are some fantastic descriptions of the landscape within these two books. If you enjoy good world building in fantasy then you will not be disappointed. The cultures of this world are all really interesting and I enjoyed learning more about this aspect of the world. There is so much detail put into these books but it never felt overwhelming and I never felt bogged down. It is all relevant and interesting. One of the main things I loved about this world is the intrigue and politics. I really enjoy fantasy books that incorporate politics and Russell does it so well.
This is very much a character driven story, which I personally really enjoy. There are so many wonderfully written characters in this book. All of them are complex and flawed with fantastic development through the two books. I will admit it was a little tricky at first to keep track of everyone but after a couple of chapters I was invested in the characters and story. Due to this being a character driven story the pacing is quite slow. Although there is action in this book, it is not a fast paced fantasy book so don’t expect that. The focus is on the development of the characters and the politics of the world. Despite this slower pacing I found the plot to be compelling throughout. I was hooked from very early on and once I’d started I didn’t want to put it down. Although I will say that the set up of the first book is especially slow, so bear with it as it does pick up. There are some great plot twists too. Russell did a fantastic job at creating intricate lines of plot that all come together at the end of the book. Finally I thought the writing was great. This was my first book by this author and I found it so easy to get into the flow of his writing style.
If you enjoy character driven fantasy with a slower pace and/or enjoy fantasy with politics then I highly recommend checking it out. I loved it and want to recommend it to everyone. If you’ve read and enjoyed Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay then I think you’d enjoy this book too. I’m definitely planning on checking out some of this authors other books too. Have you read this book? I’d love to know your thoughts. I hope you are all having a wonderful day and I will see you next time.