Rating: 4 of 5
Author: Edward C. Patterson
Format: Paperback, Kindle
12th Century China – Once the forgotten and spoiled youngest son in the royal family, prince Kao suddenly finds himself an unlikely emperor after his father and siblings are captured by the Jurchen. Now Li K’ai-men having been the grand tutor to this young prince, is now the emperor’s most trusted advisor. Not only must he protect the warrants given him by his master Han Lin but he must also find a way to maintain a Chinese royal dynasty. Through the great Nan Tu – or Southern Migration – the dynasty’s seat of power moves across the country and eventually out to sea staying one step ahead of the advancing northern invaders.
In this Book 2 of the Southern Swallow Series, Edward C Patterson takes the reader once again to ancient China and the historical events which split a great country into two dynasties. By infusing the fictional elements first introduced in The Jade Owl, Patterson weaves together the fantasy plotline of the Chi’ Tang legend, the warrants of ancient relics, and one of China’s most interesting historical events. Li must advise his young and frequently self doubting son of heaven through a mine field of political unrest, familial betrayal and power plays, invasions, mutiny, and conspiracies. But Li occasionally finds that more than just advice is needed; sometimes the power of the Chi’ Tang is required to preserve the empire. Yielding such power without usurping the emperor and his people proves to be a delicate balancing act.
In and of themselves, the cascade of historical events or the fantasy story of the Jade Owl legacy are engaging reads. But Patterson’s trademark character study and development further shine in this offering. Certainly the struggles faced by an at times unwilling emperor as well as the challenges Li’ K’ai-men faces to advice his leader while maintaining his warrants and being apart from his family and true love are wonderful journeys into the human condition. My favorite character, however, once is K’u Ko-ling. Ko-ling is Li’s servant and “son of a cowcumber farmer from Gui-lin”. Similar to The Academician, Patterson uses this character to introduce and close each chapter. He is disrespectful, dour, self-deprecating, but cunning, clever, invaluable, hysterically funny, and loyal to his master and in what he believes. In many ways Ko-ling is an unlikely hero, somewhat like the character played by Dustin Hoffman in the 1992 movie of the same name.
Those who enjoyed The Academician will enjoy this chapter of the tale as well. The Southern Swallow Series provides the back story of the relics that are front in center in the Jade Owl series. The key difference between the two series is The Jade Owl relies much more on the fantasy elements to drive the story, while The Southern Swallow Series is steeped in 12th century Chinese history. Overall, The Nan Tu is an engaging and educational addition to Patterson’s vast collection of works.