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.