Gatherer of Clouds (Daw science fiction) Mass Market Paperback – 26 Nov 1992
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Top customer reviews
Although a duology, compared to the Swan's trilogy, this seems much more ambitious. The scale of the story is more epic, the characters broader and more numerous, but whereas the Swan's War is a classic understatement of fantasy this left an opposite effect on me. Overblown and at times convoluted this struck me as one of those cases of "more is less." I was left to wonder whether with some editing this would not have been a fantastic stand alone book.
There is much to like and admire. Russell certainly has a good hold of his "alternate history" and is faithful to the oriental setting - whether the Bothanist Monks are Buddhist or not a more educated man than myself will say - but the parallels are clear enough. That means there is a lot of endless poor mimicry of oriental proverbs, poetry with a touch of Confucius and Sun Tsu thrown in for good measure. The problem is that although memorable it begins to detract from the story. I love the time and care Russell spends on his characters - as another reviewer notes - there is no "little person who comes to power" cliche here as that character - Shuyun - is marked from the very beginning as someone extraordinary. The main characters are all important and impressive people - I like that. But there are so many all trying to do important things that it again detracts from where the interest really lies - Lord Shonto, Nishima, Shuyun and Komawara are genuinely interesting BUT strangely Shuyun and Komawar and Katta are all done a disservice in the second books by being overrun by the other character threads.
Because of that I found Gavriel Kay's Under Heaven (an obvious comparison in terms of alternate history, oriental setting, and writing style) more enjoyable and ultimately more "authentic."
As an aspiring author myself the lesson I have learnt here is that "less is definitely more."
Did I enjoy it? Yes (Particularly the Initiate Brother)but felt slightly cheated by the end.
Were the story and the characters engaging? Yes - some characters in particular were excellent.
Would I recommend this book? Yes but not to all/the majority of fantasy/alternate history readers.
Would I read more Sean Russell? Definitely
Sean Russell continues this unique story that barely qualifies as fantasy and dips deeply into the historic fiction genre. Still, if you're going to pick a fantasy novel out at random, you could scarcely do better than this book, an excellent read.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
As the story opens, Shonto, governor of the northern province of She, is preparing for a massive barbarian invasion that the emperor refuses to believe in (since he only paid for a small invasion in order to get rid of Shonto). Should Shonto stay in the north, as ordered, and be wiped out by the barbarian horde? Or should he let his province fall and retreat toward the capital to raise an army that may have a chance to defeat the invaders? This latter option seems the only way to save the empire of Wa, but the emperor will certainly declare treason if Shonto starts recruiting soldiers. There are hard choices and harder sacrifices to make, not just for Shonto, but for everyone involved.
While reading Gatherer of Clouds, I was completely immersed in the lives of Lord Shonto, Brother Shuyun, Lady Nishima, Lord Komawara, and the Jaku brothers, as well as the beauty and elegance of their lifestyles. Each of Sean Russell's diverse set of characters is vivid, unique, and realistic, and they all learn much about themselves and each other as the stress ramps up. Because we spend so much time with them, and because they feel so real, their inner struggles become our inner struggles. Would we be willing to sacrifice love for duty? When is it right to disobey (or murder!) a sovereign ruler? Are there times when it is better to kill than to heal? What is true religion and how do we recognize when it has become corrupt? When does loyalty become dishonorable? When principles conflict, how do we know which principle is highest? I found myself considering each of these questions as I read Gatherer of Clouds.
In addition to making us think about some tough ideas, Russell also shows us how legends are made. Every one of his characters has the potential to become either a hero or a villain, and Russell shows us that it's our daily choices that add up to determine our destiny and how we'll be perceived by history.
If you enjoy character-centered epic fantasy with lots of political intrigue, Sean Russell's The Initiate Brother is a great choice. I listened to Blackstone Audio's version and can recommend this format. This was my first experience with Sean Russell's writing, but I'll definitely be exploring more of his work in the future.
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