The Academician - Southern Swallow Book I
by Edward C. Patterson
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Review By Barbara
Review by Alan H. Chin
Edward Patterson stretches his considerable talents in this daring novel that mixes history with fantasy. This story is a vivid, imaginative, and often humorous romp through a pivotal point in Chinese history. It has surprising power, with images that grab hold of you and don't let go. In the midst of this fanciful tale, Patterson creates a heartwarming gay love story. The love interest is not the main plot, however, but rather a tantalizing spice spread over the plot.
An inner look into
ancient China, June 7, 2009
He is one of the most versatile writers I've encountered - he can write gay themed stories that touch every reader, straight and gay - and he is an expert in all things China - a Sinologist extraordinaire.
His Jade Owl series
- The Jade Owl, The Third Peregrination, and The Dragon's Pool is a masterful
series - and follows 'China Hands', sinologists who help unravel the marvelous
myths and history of China.
It is this man, Li K'ai-men's story told in The Academician. Li's man-servant, K'u Ko-ling, tells the story through his eyes, although Mr. Patterson, deftly transfers to third person to overview the goings on we need to know. We come to know each character, the good and the bad, and understand their part in history and part they play beyond this book.
To me, having read the Jade Owl series before this book, I found great insight into the characters we have learned about in literally past adventures featuring the China Hands.
The Academician hints at actions we see in the Jade Owl series, which were brilliant. For example, Li K'ai-men, smells lavender, which is the signature scent of Nick Battle, whose life and spirit are literally tied to both the Jade Owl series, and the Southern Swallow series - which The Academician is Book 1.
Li-K'ai-men's banners are painted with mystical and mythical proportians and we know these paintings are shared in the Jade Owl series.
So one book flows into the other - almost a highlight film, a backstory to the Jade Series, but The Academician can also be a stand alone read. It shows the heart and soul of the time of Li-K'ai-men's China.
An excellent read
from an amazing author.
Review by Todd Fonseca, Minneapolic, MN
"12th Century China Graduating with the highest honor at the academy, Li Kai-men is charged by his great teacher and master Han Lin with carrying out a number of warrants both public and secret. Designated as the new superintendent of Su-chou, Li Kai-men restores order and beauty to this chronically neglected area and proves he is more than an academic. However, Li is not perfect and his errors in judgment only serve to build his character; soon his talents are recognized by the Emperor and Kai-men finds himself tutor to a royal prince. But political unrest and war soon come and China quickly finds itself in turmoil. Not only must Li Kai-men protect his prince, but also the secret warrants associated with the Jade Owl relics.
In The Academician, Edward C. Patterson takes the reader into the heart of 12th century China and the historical events that unfold. Patterson masterfully weaves in the fictional fantastic elements of the Jade Owl and the character of Li Kai-men during the sweeping changes in Chinas dynasties centering around the great painter but ineffective Emperor Hui and his family. Fans of Patterson will once again find a story strong in character development and steeped in ancient Chinese culture and events of the day with hints of the fantastical elements that are sure to build in later installments.
Told from the perspective of Ku Ko-ling - Li Kai-mens faithful though occasionally acerbic servant - each chapter begins with a 1st person account of events detailed in the remainder of the chapter. In this way, Patterson is able to avoid too much exposition while still conveying the richness of the history woven into the story. Reminiscent of James Clavells work but injected with even stronger character development with the addition of the fantastical elements, Patterson creates an engaging and enlightening read.
Fans of the Jade Owl Legacy will find the beginnings of this relic and its associates. Much like the back-story extras on a good collectors addition of a DVD, the Academician provides that detailed background into what would later drive Rowden Grey and Nick Battle into the quest of a lifetime. Im looking forward to the next offering in the Southern Swallow series.
Review by Lila
Pinord (Port Angeles, WA)
A very exciting
idealistic man in a time of institutional corruption, December 19, 2011
The Academician successfully transports the modern reader back in both mindset and experience to a exquisitely, but not overwhelmingly, rendered 12th-century China.
Theory and study are not the same as practice. In the 12th-century Song Dynasty, Scholar-bureaucrat Li K'ai-men and his servant K'u Ko-ling are forced to confront this truth as Li K'ai-men's career takes him from the harsh realities of rural administration to the political viper's nest of the capital at a time when enemies threaten the borders of the country.
A good work of historical fiction is a time machine. A bad work of historical fiction is a dry encyclopedia merely pretending to be a story or a just a modern story where people are wearing funny costumes. The Academician is a very good time machine, indeed. Whether you're already well-versed in Chinese history or know nothing about it, this novel will likely teach you something new.
The story is infused with details, both major and subtle, throughout that completely draw the reader into the nature of life in the 12th-century Song Dynasty. All the while, these details only serve to enhance the story and don't come off as unnecessary embellishments. Given the nature and scope of the plot, the author skillfully explores not just general trappings of setting but also the very fundamental beliefs that motivated people in the story's place and time.
For thousands of years, all cultures have debated the fundamental questions of ethics and morality. What does it mean to live a righteous life? What responsibility does the government play in people's lives? What sort of sacrifices are permissible for the greater good?
The Academician, first and foremost is the story of a man and his younger servant experiencing the gulf between the ideal and the reality, but in doing so it explores some of the above questions in a Confucian (and to a lesser extent Taoist and Buddhist) context in a way that's interesting without being drearily didactic. Li K'ai-men, though sometimes distanced from the reader because of a framing device that often has his story being told through his servant's POV, is a well-developed character. The reader is also treated to the development of the aforementioned servant, K'u Ko-ling, who starts out as a wide-eyed awestruck boy and matures into a sharp-witted, if somewhat cynical, adult.
The plot is actually divided into two relatively discrete halves: the first covers Li K'ai-men's first real experience with administration and the second his time as an Imperial tutor. They are intriguing in that they explore the character growth of the protagonists while also providing thorough thematic explorations of the benefits and disadvantages of the complex, centrally-controlled bureaucratic government that defined the era. What's particularly fascinating is that the author manages to present us with a realistic and idealistic protagonist, the embodiment of the Confucian scholar-bureaucrat ideal, who lives and works in a land and time where corruption had seeped thoroughly into the system. This is not a story about one man turning back the tide of history, but rather a story about the ways one idealistic man can successfully live a half-way decent life despite the wretched stench of that same tide.
With bandits inside and hostile powers threatening the country from without, this was not a time and place free from violence. Justice itself was often brutal as well. Accordingly, there are a small number of scenes featuring some rather severe violence. These are not gratuitous and are actually vital for understanding the character development of the protagonist.
Those who've had some training in any of the Chinese dialects will recognize that the author actually uses multiple romanization systems throughout. The intent, apparently, was to make the names more easily comprehensible to readers with absolutely no background in Chinese. Overall, despite being rather personally partisan on the issue of Chinese romanization, I found this mixing of systems didn't distract from my reading at all.
Though there's a bit more of a military focus in the second half, overall, this is not a story that places a tremendous amount of emphasis on such elements. The general lack of action, combined with a general sedate plot progression, may not appeal to all readers, but patient readers with an interest in either Imperial Chinese history or just complex urbanized societies will likely enjoy this.
a bit of fantasy., March 6, 2011
by a great writer, June 1, 2010
The Academician, the first of four books in Patterson's Southern Swallow series, takes us on an epic journey through 12th Century China. A government servant (think of him as a middle manager for the Hui Dynasty) Li K-ai-men and his servant K'u Ko-ling travel through the country together and, shall we say, bond with each other. The story is rich in history and filled with meticulous detail, descriptions of the food, clothing, and customs are expertly concocted with historical precision. The execution of brigand Ch'ien Mu by blade (literally a death by 1,000 slices) is gripping in its violence.
The relationship between master and servant, though not entirely inappropriate, does cause complications for Li K-ai-men, who knows his lover can be "neither concubine for inheritor," but continues the affair, losing his wife's trust.
This is heavy reading. It was difficult to read in large chunks and I kept taking breaks to devour something quick and easy before picking it up again to chew through another 100 pages. The writing is excellent and feels like Patterson went back in time to the 12th Century, lived there for years, and came back to write this book. Or perhaps he's actually from the 12th Century? The research is that strong.
If I could, I would deducting half a star for the cover. I've stressed again and again the importance of a strong cover but this one is pixilated and blurry and difficult to interpret. It looks like a low-resolution jpeg was expanded by Microsoft Paint and then shrunk, expanded, shrunk and expanded again. Make sure your cover is designed by a pro.
All in all, a good book backed by very strong writing and expert knowledge of the setting.
Mark McGinty is the author of "The Cigar Maker" and "Elvis and the Blue Moon Conspiracy"