These were evidently arranged to save Sean Russell from the curse upon the author of the perfect book, because _The Initiate Brother_ and its sequel _Gatherer of Clouds_ are in all other respects a display of hubris. Most of the characters are charismatic leaders, gifted artists, or spiritual adepts. This is bold, because almost anyone can create a credibly weak and stupid character, or a shallow and conventional Hero; but convincing greatness is difficult. Russell achieves it consistently: when his poets produce poems, they are impressive poems; when his generals lay plans, they are impressive plans. And yet they are all vividly human, with appetites, failings, and senses of humour. It would be a remarkable experience to meet any of them, but one can easily imagine doing so. And the books are not just showcases for these memorable figures, either: the plot is both gripping and elaborate. Finally, while it is easy to rave about these books after finishing them, in reading them one is much too immersed in the story to be conscious of the author's skill.