The Academician - Southern Swallow Book I

Novel by Edward C. Patterson
ISBN: 1-44149975-X

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Review By Barbara L. Mahoney
The Academician

The Acadamician, Southern Swallow, by Edward C.Patterson is an absorbing tale written by a true China Hand. Although I am not a fan of fantasy; actually I never read fantasy but I could not put the book down. I was carried along on an incredible journey through old China through the eyes of lovable Ko-Ling. The destruction of ancient K'ai-feng (in the story) and the moving lament by Ko-Ling is a highlight.

Excellent writing. Down to Earth characters.

I also read The Jade Owl, The Third Peregrination and The Dragon's Pool by Mr. Patterson.

Review by Alan H. Chin

The Academician

Edward Patterson takes the reader deep into ancient China, during the Sung dynasty, when the Emperor was considered the "Son of Heaven" and vast armies trembled at his every whim. Out of this rich history comes the riveting journey of one man, Li K'ai-men, that begins at his graduation from an academy where he studied under a venerable master, to his rein over a province ruined by the previous corrupt administrators, to his appointment as Grand Tutor to the ninth son of the Emperor in the capital city of K'ai-feng. When warring hoards from the north threaten the safety of the realm, Li K'ai-men must use his sharp intelligence and a bit of magic to take extraordinary measures to save his life, his family, and liege lord. Li K'ai-men's journey, which includes a rather touching relationship with his male lover, Fu Lin-t'o, is told through the eyes of K'u Ko-ling, Li K'ai-men's rather clownish manservant who was the son of a cowcumber farmer.

Edward Patterson stretches his considerable talents in this daring novel that mixes history with fantasy. This story is a vivid, imaginative, and often humorous romp through a pivotal point in Chinese history. It has surprising power, with images that grab hold of you and don't let go. In the midst of this fanciful tale, Patterson creates a heartwarming gay love story. The love interest is not the main plot, however, but rather a tantalizing spice spread over the plot.

The author uses a technique that I have seen only once before. The narrator starts and finishes each chapter with his 1st person point of view, but the bulk of the story is told in 3rd person. I found these POV switches to be seamless, and greatly added to developing the depths of the main characters. This is a character driven story, and Patterson skillfully allows us see these characters to their core.
I had only two problems with this story. The first problem was that because there were a host of minor characters, and the Chinese names were somewhat confusing, I had some trouble telling them apart. The second issue was that this is the first novel in a series, which means that it sets the stage for much more story to come. I was left with a feeling of incompleteness, and somewhat miffed that I must wait for another installment or two to finish the story.

The plot is complex, which combines with his consummate skill at crafting prose and his well-researched details to keep the reader fully engaged until the last page. I would recommend this read to anyone who enjoys multifaceted characters, humor, and a well-crafted story.

An inner look into ancient China, June 7, 2009
Review by ellen Ellen George (Atlanta, Georgia USA) s

It is well known I am a fan of Edward C. Patterson.

He is one of the most versatile writers I've encountered - he can write gay themed stories that touch every reader, straight and gay - and he is an expert in all things China - a Sinologist extraordinaire.

His Jade Owl series - The Jade Owl, The Third Peregrination, and The Dragon's Pool is a masterful series - and follows 'China Hands', sinologists who help unravel the marvelous myths and history of China.
In The Jade Owl and The Third Peregrination, we meet the learned figure in Chinese history, Li K'ai-men, an academician's academician.

It is this man, Li K'ai-men's story told in The Academician. Li's man-servant, K'u Ko-ling, tells the story through his eyes, although Mr. Patterson, deftly transfers to third person to overview the goings on we need to know. We come to know each character, the good and the bad, and understand their part in history and part they play beyond this book.

To me, having read the Jade Owl series before this book, I found great insight into the characters we have learned about in literally past adventures featuring the China Hands.

The Academician hints at actions we see in the Jade Owl series, which were brilliant. For example, Li K'ai-men, smells lavender, which is the signature scent of Nick Battle, whose life and spirit are literally tied to both the Jade Owl series, and the Southern Swallow series - which The Academician is Book 1.

Li-K'ai-men's banners are painted with mystical and mythical proportians and we know these paintings are shared in the Jade Owl series.

So one book flows into the other - almost a highlight film, a backstory to the Jade Series, but The Academician can also be a stand alone read. It shows the heart and soul of the time of Li-K'ai-men's China.

An excellent read from an amazing author.

Review by Todd Fonseca, Minneapolic, MN


"12th Century China – Graduating with the highest honor at the academy, Li K’ai-men is charged by his great teacher and master Han Lin with carrying out a number of warrants both public and secret. Designated as the new superintendent of Su-chou, Li K’ai-men restores order and beauty to this chronically neglected area and proves he is more than an academic. However, Li is not perfect and his errors in judgment only serve to build his character; soon his talents are recognized by the Emperor and K’ai-men finds himself tutor to a royal prince. But political unrest and war soon come and China quickly finds itself in turmoil. Not only must Li K’ai-men protect his prince, but also the secret warrants associated with the Jade Owl relics.

In The Academician, Edward C. Patterson takes the reader into the heart of 12th century China and the historical events that unfold. Patterson masterfully weaves in the fictional fantastic elements of the Jade Owl and the character of Li K’ai-men during the sweeping changes in China’s dynasties centering around the great painter but ineffective Emperor Hui and his family. Fans of Patterson will once again find a story strong in character development and steeped in ancient Chinese culture and events of the day with hints of the fantastical elements that are sure to build in later installments.

Told from the perspective of K’u Ko-ling - Li K’ai-men’s faithful though occasionally acerbic servant - each chapter begins with a 1st person account of events detailed in the remainder of the chapter. In this way, Patterson is able to avoid too much exposition while still conveying the richness of the history woven into the story. Reminiscent of James Clavell’s work but injected with even stronger character development with the addition of the fantastical elements, Patterson creates an engaging and enlightening read.

Fans of the Jade Owl Legacy will find the beginnings of this relic and its associates. Much like the back-story extras on a good collector’s addition of a DVD, the Academician provides that detailed background into what would later drive Rowden Grey and Nick Battle into the quest of a lifetime. I’m looking forward to the next offering in the Southern Swallow series.

Review by Lila Pinord (Port Angeles, WA)

A very exciting read!

The Academecian is one of the best books I've read in a long time. It's one of those you want to go on and on - and Mr. Patterson is going to see that it does! It is an epic story beginning with the scholar Li K' ai-men's appointment to the Yan-chou Yamen, accompanied by his faithful servant K'u Ko- Ling. Though very young, Li K' ai-men takes over the palatial palace and brings about many changes, all for the good of his people.

Later on, he becomes the Master Tutor to a young prince who preferred to have a friend more than a teacher. Then we follow along as an important dynasty begins its decline and all the changes that follow, the devastation and wars. Li and his prince and their loyals face death many times during their journeys and we hold our breaths each time.

Mr. Patterson causes us to believe in his characters so deeply, that we can't wait to continue their adventures throughout history-making events. One of the best is young K'U Ko-ling, so loyal, so humorous at times, and the narrator of the story. The author couldn't have chosen a better story teller!
This book is highly recommended to all readers who love adventures into history!

Great job, Mr. Patterson!


An idealistic man in a time of institutional corruption, December 19, 2011
By Good Book Alert
The Academician (Southern Swallow, Book 1)
Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4.5 Stars

The Academician successfully transports the modern reader back in both mindset and experience to a exquisitely, but not overwhelmingly, rendered 12th-century China.


Theory and study are not the same as practice. In the 12th-century Song Dynasty, Scholar-bureaucrat Li K'ai-men and his servant K'u Ko-ling are forced to confront this truth as Li K'ai-men's career takes him from the harsh realities of rural administration to the political viper's nest of the capital at a time when enemies threaten the borders of the country.


A good work of historical fiction is a time machine. A bad work of historical fiction is a dry encyclopedia merely pretending to be a story or a just a modern story where people are wearing funny costumes. The Academician is a very good time machine, indeed. Whether you're already well-versed in Chinese history or know nothing about it, this novel will likely teach you something new.

The story is infused with details, both major and subtle, throughout that completely draw the reader into the nature of life in the 12th-century Song Dynasty. All the while, these details only serve to enhance the story and don't come off as unnecessary embellishments. Given the nature and scope of the plot, the author skillfully explores not just general trappings of setting but also the very fundamental beliefs that motivated people in the story's place and time.

For thousands of years, all cultures have debated the fundamental questions of ethics and morality. What does it mean to live a righteous life? What responsibility does the government play in people's lives? What sort of sacrifices are permissible for the greater good?

The Academician, first and foremost is the story of a man and his younger servant experiencing the gulf between the ideal and the reality, but in doing so it explores some of the above questions in a Confucian (and to a lesser extent Taoist and Buddhist) context in a way that's interesting without being drearily didactic. Li K'ai-men, though sometimes distanced from the reader because of a framing device that often has his story being told through his servant's POV, is a well-developed character. The reader is also treated to the development of the aforementioned servant, K'u Ko-ling, who starts out as a wide-eyed awestruck boy and matures into a sharp-witted, if somewhat cynical, adult.

The plot is actually divided into two relatively discrete halves: the first covers Li K'ai-men's first real experience with administration and the second his time as an Imperial tutor. They are intriguing in that they explore the character growth of the protagonists while also providing thorough thematic explorations of the benefits and disadvantages of the complex, centrally-controlled bureaucratic government that defined the era. What's particularly fascinating is that the author manages to present us with a realistic and idealistic protagonist, the embodiment of the Confucian scholar-bureaucrat ideal, who lives and works in a land and time where corruption had seeped thoroughly into the system. This is not a story about one man turning back the tide of history, but rather a story about the ways one idealistic man can successfully live a half-way decent life despite the wretched stench of that same tide.

With bandits inside and hostile powers threatening the country from without, this was not a time and place free from violence. Justice itself was often brutal as well. Accordingly, there are a small number of scenes featuring some rather severe violence. These are not gratuitous and are actually vital for understanding the character development of the protagonist.

Those who've had some training in any of the Chinese dialects will recognize that the author actually uses multiple romanization systems throughout. The intent, apparently, was to make the names more easily comprehensible to readers with absolutely no background in Chinese. Overall, despite being rather personally partisan on the issue of Chinese romanization, I found this mixing of systems didn't distract from my reading at all.

Though there's a bit more of a military focus in the second half, overall, this is not a story that places a tremendous amount of emphasis on such elements. The general lack of action, combined with a general sedate plot progression, may not appeal to all readers, but patient readers with an interest in either Imperial Chinese history or just complex urbanized societies will likely enjoy this.

4.5 Stars

5.0 out of 5 stars Travel through Time, October 16, 2011
By Veronica Li (VA)

This is a fascinating story set in an interesting period of Chinese history, when nomadic warrior tribes threaten the Sung Empire. The sights and sounds of horsemen thundering across the plains come across vividly, as do the colors and smells of palaces and streets of ancient cities. The author has done a great job bringing an ancient civilization to life both at a macro and micro level. The characters of the high and mighty as well as the lowly servant appear in flesh and blood. Their behavior is strange to my modern eyes, but I can't help admiring the loyalty and human bonds that hold them together. Help other customers find the most helpful reviews

History with a bit of fantasy., March 6, 2011
By R. Reed "Author of Xanthan Gumm." (Los Angeles)

My knowledge of Chinese history is pretty scant, so I learned a lot from this fascinating book. Since I read it I have looked up the historical figures in it and read more about them. The book also has humor, great characters, true love, and a dash of fantasy. It ties in with Mr. Patterson's Jade Owl books, showing how the relics that are important to the 21st century China Hands were kept safe over the centuries, as empires rose and fell. Help other customers find the most helpful reviews
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Sound writing by a great writer, June 1, 2010
By Mark McGinty "Author, "The Cigar Maker"" (Minneapolis)

Edward C. Patterson, one of the most prolific indie authors I've encountered, has published (by my rough count) somewhere between 15 and 17 books and has another 6 or 7 on the way. Some of these are on Kindle, some in paperback, some available through both. The point is, this guy can generate some words. And he's been writing long enough to have developed a confident command of the language. His books are rich in detail, and filled with minutiae. Patterson seems not to labor over every detail, but to naturally sprinkle these convincing spices into his work morsel by morsel, whimsically and flippantly, but always with little effort. He makes it look easy and these colorful details build a world, populate his environment, and become the essence of his writing.

The Academician, the first of four books in Patterson's Southern Swallow series, takes us on an epic journey through 12th Century China. A government servant (think of him as a middle manager for the Hui Dynasty) Li K-ai-men and his servant K'u Ko-ling travel through the country together and, shall we say, bond with each other. The story is rich in history and filled with meticulous detail, descriptions of the food, clothing, and customs are expertly concocted with historical precision. The execution of brigand Ch'ien Mu by blade (literally a death by 1,000 slices) is gripping in its violence.

The relationship between master and servant, though not entirely inappropriate, does cause complications for Li K-ai-men, who knows his lover can be "neither concubine for inheritor," but continues the affair, losing his wife's trust.

This is heavy reading. It was difficult to read in large chunks and I kept taking breaks to devour something quick and easy before picking it up again to chew through another 100 pages. The writing is excellent and feels like Patterson went back in time to the 12th Century, lived there for years, and came back to write this book. Or perhaps he's actually from the 12th Century? The research is that strong.

If I could, I would deducting half a star for the cover. I've stressed again and again the importance of a strong cover but this one is pixilated and blurry and difficult to interpret. It looks like a low-resolution jpeg was expanded by Microsoft Paint and then shrunk, expanded, shrunk and expanded again. Make sure your cover is designed by a pro.

All in all, a good book backed by very strong writing and expert knowledge of the setting.

Mark McGinty is the author of "The Cigar Maker" and "Elvis and the Blue Moon Conspiracy"