This two volume story is elegant, moving, and fun. The monk, Shuyun, comes to be spiritual advisor to the Shonto family. From there, we have intrigue with the emperor, a barbarian invasion, complex politics, wild battles, and an elegant fictionalized China, complete with lovely poetry. In this volume, we have a running battle with a huge barbarian army, as the Shonto family is caught between the emperor and the barbarians. The brother Shuyun is caught between his duties and a woman, in a very satisfying love story. Excellent story.
on May 4, 2001
One of the finest books I have ever read. Make sure to start with the first one first, and then go on the sequel.
Just to warn/entice those who may have read some of Russell's other works first -- these two books are written by a warm inviting Russell, while his other books are written by a cold, cynical, sarcastic person. (Guess which I prefer.) So even if you did not care for Russell's other works, please give these a try.
Gatherer of Clouds is the sequel to Sean Russell's The Initiate Brother, a story which is not so much about the Initiate Brother Shuyun, spiritual advisor to Lord Shonto, as it is about the entire Shonto household -- a household that is seen as a threat by an insecure emperor. And with good reason, for Lord Shonto is an honorable, intelligent, and insightful man who has raised his children to be his equals and who has surrounded himself with a competent and loyal staff and several clever allies.
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.
on March 28, 2013
Gatherer of Clouds was an excellent journey into the soul of the book's characters. It was refreshing to delve into several of the characters in-depth instead of just one or two. A fast read. I wanted to keep reading it to see what the people would learn next - who would fail, and who would succeed, and more specifically, how. Even the poetic nature of the stories were well entwined in the stories themselves. Sean Russell makes me think.
on January 12, 2000
The Initiate Brother left readers on a cliffhanger, making it obvious that these two books are really just one giant novel under separate covers. Thus, the reader doesn't have to worry about the quality of the sequel, which is as entrancing as the first book. Both are engrossing stories of love, war, religion, politics, and intrigue, certainly one of the best series of this type in the fantasy genre, right up there with Frank Herbert's Dune.
on March 25, 2006
Along with Initiate Brother, Gatherer of Clouds is a book I regularly re-read. It gives me joy each time. Vivid characters, great story, memorable vignettes and more than a little wisdom make it a great read.
The central religion of Wa, Botahism, is obviously based on Buddhism. The more my knowledge of Buddhism increases, the more soundly based Sean Russell's depiction seems.
on March 11, 2001
This is a real treat for those who love to read! The first book, and this one is a great story, the witing style is smooth as silk, and the characters are not only interesting, and likeable, but believable to boot! I actually shed tears in public while reading this book, I couldn't put it down. Wonderful, enchanting, and totally satisfying read!
on November 1, 2009
This is a terrific read. Sean Russell is a skilled writer who creates a wonderful, believable fantasy Asian country that seems to combine elements of both Chinese and Japanese culture. Like many Russell books, it does not rely heavily on magic, but it is there, as a form of "chi" that is more clearly real than at least Western culture likes to admit. The characters are well done and three-dimensional. I enjoyed this book so much that I read it again a year or two later.
on September 30, 1997
If you've stumbled onto this review and haven't read the first book, then by all means, look that one up first!
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.
on July 14, 2011
The machinations of a faithless emperor expose his subjects to a massive barbarian invasion which must be stopped by the lord Shonto and his household. The monk Shuyun, spiritual advisor to Shonto and title character of both books, struggles with the realization of his own power and identity, and the corruption of those he has been taught to respect.
There are no fearsome monsters or magical fireworks, and no crisis that will surely end the universe or take all joy out of it forever in this tale. Magic is sparse, enhancing the sense of wonder which we see the characters experience. Mr. Russell adeptly uses the formality and ceremony of high Asian culture as a structure in which to place, like jewels, the feelings and intimate thoughts of the characters. This is a work of power and beauty.