The Initiate Brother by Sean Russell. ★★★1/2
After a plague ravaged the Empire of Wa, there’s a new dynasty on the throne. And many who were once powerful are out of favor with the Emperor. Among these are the Botahist Monks, who have a unique control over their perception of time and their internal energy. They’ve been spiritual advisers to the court for a thousand years, but now their position is threatened. However, the Emperor views his greatest enemy of all as Lord Shonto, the powerful head of a great house and adopted father of Lady Nishima, the last surviving member of the old dynasty. The Emperor has hatched a plan to rid himself of Lord Shonto, but he didn’t count on Lord Shonto’s new spiritual adviser, the Brother Shuyun.
Going into The Initiate Brother, I was unsure how it would end up treating its female characters. Fantasy novels aren’t always great about remembering that women exist and actually do things, but in this regard The Initiate Brother ended up being better than I feared. There’s multiple female characters who (*gasp*) interact with each other! While I don’t think it’s a fantasy series I’d recommend if you’re specifically looking for female characters, it is at least decent in that regards. I would have liked to see more of Lady Nishima’s relationship with Lady Okara, her artistic mentor.
As you can probably tell by the names, the setting has clear influences from East Asia, China and Japan specifically. For instance, the Botahist Monks are clearly analogous to Buddhism. So far I haven’t found any Chinese or Japanese reviewers talking about how well they thought the cultural elements were handled. If anyone knows of a review like this, I would love a link.
While I did enjoy parts of this book (particularly sections focusing on Lady Nishima), I also found it very slow moving. The end of the book cuts off very abruptly, making it more of a “Part One” than a stand alone story. While the copy I’m reading is a bundle of both books in the duology, I’m taking a break in between books in search of something with a faster pace. I am planning on coming back to the series when I’m in the mood for slower paced intrigue, but right now I have an itch for something with more action.