Sunday, October 23, 2011

Review of The Academician - Southern Swallow Book I by Edward C. Patterson

Edward C. Patterson's The Academician - Southern Swallow is clearly written by someone deeply steeped in the history of 12th Century China. You are left with no doubt of his knowledge and love of the period and people. It is well-written and a fascinating look at a very foreign place and time. Patterson brings interesting bits of fantasy into the very historically grounded story. I'm not generally fond of historical fantasy, but it works well in this novel.


That said, I'm going to start with a couple of things I didn't care for. The first several chapters of the novel are extremely slow, and at first he simply didn't get me to care about the characters. At first the main character,  Li K'ai-men, is kept very much at arms length. There is also a very large cast of characters which was a bit confusing and hard to keep straight at times. Eventually, he allowed the reader to get close to the characters, but I nearly gave up before I reached that point. 


The story is told through the eyes of K'u Ko-ling, Li's faithful but sharp-tongued servant, which adds interesting layers to the story. At the start of the novel, Li is named the superintendent of Su-chou, a seriously neglected area. The administration is corrupt, laws uninforced and the people suffering. 


After several chapters, Patterson begins to do a masterful job of immersing the reader in 12th Century China and the reign of artist-emperor Hui-tsung of the Song dynasty. You begin to see what an interesting character Li K'ai-men is, as his strengths are built, in part through his own mistakes and problems.  There is also a gay romance that wends though the story, but is never the focus of the novel.  


Once Li's talent is recognized, he is named tutor to a royal prince. However, war quickly engulfs them all in chaos. Li is hard pressed to protect the prince in the midst of the turmoil and at the same time he must deal with the threats and the magic of the Jade Owl.


Patterson did a good job of handling the difficult technique of switching from 1st person narrative to 3rd person narrative, which allowed him to avoid heavy backstory but still convey the rich history woven into the story. While not perfect, this is a very unusual novel well worth the effort. I suggest it to any fan of historical fantasy, and even fans of historical fiction will enjoy it.


I don't suggest buying any novel because of the price, but 99 Cents is amazing for this novel which you will find on Amazon and Smashwords.


PS. I might mention that this was a novel I bought and reviewed without any request from the author.

5 comments:

J.A. Beard said...

I have this, but haven't gotten around to reading it yet.

Though, given the period expertise you mention, I'm wondering if the author wasn't influenced by the Chinese classical writing tradition. That is, slow, main character being kept at arm's length in a lot of ways, and huge cast of characters is very, very classic Chinese-lit.

Now, obviously this is an English-language book written in modern times, but given the subject matter I wouldn't be surprised if there weren't substrate influences of those sorts.

J. R. Tomlin said...

J. A., that is very possible, even likely given Ed Patterson's background. I must admit being a bit of an ignoramus on Chinese lit.

I would class this as a very unusual novel. It may take more patience than most of us bring to novel reading these days, but I do think it's worth the effort.

Edward C. Patterson said...

J.A. Beard:

Yes, in my Acknowledgements I pay homage to the Novelists of the Yuan and Ming Dynasties. I also tried to adopt and adapt the Chinese 13th-14th Century structure to the 21st Century craft. Not easy, but I have a Master's in Chinese History (12th Century) and it should be good for something. Enjoy the work, and the subsequent 4 other works (2 already available). I've been workig on this series for 37 years.

Edward C. Patterson

Edward C. Patterson said...

J.A. Beard:

Yes, in my Acknowledgements I pay homage to the Novelists of the Yuan and Ming Dynasties. I also tried to adopt and adapt the Chinese 13th-14th Century structure to the 21st Century craft. Not easy, but I have a Master's in Chinese History (12th Century) and it should be good for something. Enjoy the work, and the subsequent 4 other works (2 already available). I've been workig on this series for 37 years.

Edward C. Patterson

J.A. Beard said...

The level of dedication to work on something over so many years I'm sure shows in your work. I'm glad there is this kind of work out there. I'm deeply interested in Chinese history and culture, but lack the requisite language skills to fully go direct to the source.

I think I'll dive this here in a week or two once I get through a couple of my current review commitments.