Reviewer: Alan Chin
A Brilliant Work that will Linger in your Heart and Soul
This delightful adventure tale is book IV of Edward Patterson’s Southern Swallow series. The House of Green Waters, like its predecessors (The Academician, The Nan Tu, and Swan Cloud) is told by K'u Ko-ling, the amusing servant to the Grand Tutor, Li K'ai-men, who has been living in exile for thirteen years on the harsh, tropical island of Hai-nan.
Set on the broad canvas of Sung Dynasty China (12th Century), The House of Green Waters is a collage of historical adventure, intrigue, and love. While Li K’ai-men and his entourage suffer in a fly-infested wetland, slogging through jungle streams and unfurled on deserted beaches, China’s political world explodes as a mad prince invades the Sung Empire. It’s a time for heroes and riveting warfare, including the first recorded battle in history to deploy poisonous gas as a weapon.
This story is a passing of the torch, where sons take power from fathers, and a new generation of heroes rise up to sacrifice themselves in the fight against injustice. It is also a deeply touching love story, as Li K’ai-men and his devoted lover, Fu Lin-t’o, come to their last days together, and also reach the pinnacle of their love for each other. The adoration shown on these pages rivals anything I’ve read for its beauty and raw emotion.
I have adored all four books of the Southern Swallow series for a number of reasons. First, I particularly enjoyed the characterizations in this character driven novel. Patterson has created a number of interesting and likeable characters. They are flawed, and struggle to overcome those defects. Even the "bad-guys" developed into memorable foes.
Second, the author skillfully weaves an intriguing plot that holds the reader to the page, blending history, adventure, love, and magic to form an unforgettable tapestry.
The author has created a delightful voice. The tale is told both in third person, and also K'u Ko-ling’s first person narratives. Both voices are distinct and captivating. It is a pleasure reading such well-crafted prose.
Edward C. Patterson is a scholar in East Asian culture. So not only is the storyline based on true historical events, but the descriptions of the cultural settings and rituals ring true. Patterson has done his homework, and it shows from first page to last.
For anyone interested in reading this novel, I would highly recommend reading books I, II, & III first (The Academician, The Nan Tu, and Swan Cloud). There is simply too much plot and relationship building that occurs in these earlier novels that is needed to fully understand the situations presented in The House of Green Waters.
Readers who love historical fiction will no doubt treasure this series. But these books can be enjoyed by anyone who appreciates fully developed characters and finely crafted stories. This book, this series, is a gem that can be appreciated by everyone.