Russell, Sean 1952-
RUSSELL, Sean 1952-
PERSONAL: Born 1952 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada; married; wife's name Karen; children: Brendan. Hobbies and other interests: Skiing, sailing, collecting old yachting and sailing books, hiking, caving, rock climbing.
The Initiate Brother, Book One, DAW Books, Inc. (New York, NY), 1991.
Gatherer of Clouds, DAW Books, Inc. (New York, NY), 1993.
World without End, DAW Books, Inc. (New York, NY), 1995.
Sea without a Shore, DAW Books, Inc. (New York, NY), 1996.
Beneath the Vaulted Hills, DAW Books, Inc. (New York, NY), 1997.
The Compass of the Soul, DAW Books, Inc. (New York, NY), 1998.
The One Kingdom: Book One of the Swans' War, EOS (New York, NY), 2001. The Isle of Battle: Book Two of the Swans' War, EOS (New York, NY), 2002.
SIDELIGHTS: Sean Russell was ten years old when he decided to become a writer. His first fantasy novel, The Initiate Brother, was published in 1991, and he has continued to steadily publish novels ever since.
Citing novels such as Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, and Captains Courageous among his earliest favorite books, Russell explained that it took a few years to discover science fiction. "I can still remember the first SF book I read, though I can't tell you the title or the author: a company of astronauts were detailed to bring an asteroid of uranium back into earth's orbit, which they did, using atomic bombs for propulsion. It was a great story, and I was hooked," he revealed on his Web site. He claims that J. R. R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy had a significant impact on him. "I can't tell you how many times I've read Lord of the Rings. I used to read it every autumn, but now I only seem to read it once every two or three years. I still think it's never been bettered or even matched in our genre."
Russell's debut novel, The Initiate Brother, is an epic fantasy set in an alternate world resembling dynastic China. The complicated plot revolves around two royal families engaged in a power struggle. Complete with sword fights, mystic riddles, and political intrigue, the book was widely praised. "It's refreshing to encounter a new author whose first effort has uncharacteristic depth and style," wrote Gordon Graham in a review for Quill & Quire. "Russell completely integrates his oriental setting into the flavor of his tale, rending sentences, characters, and scenes with all the expressive power of a Chinese watercolor. Such stylishness places him far above most fantasy writers."
Gatherer of Clouds is the sequel to Russell's debut novel, and it received praise equal to that of The Initiate Brother. At six hundred pages, Gatherer of Clouds is longer than the first novel, but it has been commended for tying up all loose ends left dangling at the end of the first novel. Graham called both books "a welcome treat for anyone who can appreciate a rousing tale of courtly intrigue, military conflict, forbidden romance, and mystical initiation," and praised Russell's writing style as well as his ability to create believable, well-rounded characters. Carolyn Cushman of Locus found Gatherer of Clouds somewhat slow-moving. "The going is a bit slow at first, as all the players move ponderously towards war, but the novel picks up considerable momentum as events unfold. . . . Elegant Asian elements give the novel an otherworldly, fantasy feel."
Russell began a new series—"Moontide and Magic Rise"—with the novel World without End. The new series is a sea adventure set in a world where mages exist but are dying out. Tristam Flattery, a promising naturalist, is summoned to the royal court of Farrland to help save the endangered kingsfoil plant, the seeds of which the king is addicted to. Tristam and the king's mistress set sail in search of a new growth of the plant and ultimately begin an affair. Locus reviewer Carolyn Cushman called the novel an "old-fashioned high adventure, complete with ancient ruins, a mysterious white falcon, a beautiful duchess, her homicidal brother, superstitious sailors, sea battles, miraculous rescues, an eager midshipman, and a sinister doctor." Sea without a Shore is the second book in the "Moontide and Magic Rise" series, and it was deemed, "almost more historical fiction than fantasy, but the magic in it is subtle and important to the plot" in a Kliatt review by Gail E. Roberts.
A new series titled "The River into Darkness" begins with the novel Beneath the Vaulted Hills. It uses the same setting as the "Moontide and Magic Rise" series, but is set in an earlier time. In Beneath the Vaulted Hills magic has been stamped out by the Church, except for the spells of Lord Eldrich, last of the mages. Though the Church recognizes its powerlessness in controlling Eldrich, it persecutes the Tellerites, followers of a long-dead apprentice mage who are trying to restore magic to the world. Erasmus Flattery becomes involved with Lord Eldrich and finds himself in a life-threatening situation. A review in Voice of Youth Advocates judged the book to be "for fans of this author's previous works or those who enjoy the challenge of an extremely complex and quite lengthy quest fantasy." Harriet Klausner in Bookbrowser.com praised the novel as "a fabulous fantasy political thriller that will excite readers because everything seems genuine."
Russell's third series is "The Swans' War," and The One Kingdom is the first novel in the series. In Ayr, the throne has been vacant for more than a century. The Rennes and the Wills have battled over succession ceaselessly, tearing the land apart in their greed and hatred. Toren Renne, head of one family, wants peace, which leads some of his relatives to plot his murder. Meanwhile, Elise Wills tries to avoid an arranged marriage that would unite two families against the Renne. Caught in the middle of the conflict are Tam, Fynnol, and Baore, three young adventure-seekers who find themselves fighting for their lives. Kat Kan in Voices of Youth Advocates commented that "Magic permeates all that occurs adding to the foreboding nature of the story, which ends in a cliffhanger. Readers familiar with fantasy have met these characters before, but Russell succeeds in making them interesting as individuals."
The Compass of the Soul picks up where Beneath the Vaulted Hills leaves off. It features Lord Eldrich, Erasmus, and the Tellerites once again, and introduces Anna Fielding, a young Tellerite who survives against all odds. Kirkus Reviews called The Compass of the Soul "a strange and beautiful book that offers an unusual depth and nuance of character, set forth in lustrous dialogue and prose the texture of honeyed silk." Rodger Turner reviewed the book for SFSite and wrote, "The Compass of the Soul and its companion, Beneath the Vaulted Hills are just the sort of books that can sweep you away from your day-to-day life and catapult you into that mental cabin in the woods, that imaginary home overlooking the sea, that dream sailboat cruising the waterways with your job being to sit in a rocker, stand at the helm, sway in the hammock and enjoy Sean Russell's adventure."
In his review for SFF.com, Rob H. Bedford called The Isle of Battle "excellent. . . . Russell has avoided what many writers who undertake series writing have not: middle-book syndrome. Often the middle book (or books) in a series is merely a place-holder, where some nondescript stuff happens. This is not the case with The Isle of Battle."
The Isle of Battel continues the saga of the Rennes and the Wills. Though the kingdom for which they once fought no longer exists, the two families remain bitter enemies. Elise Wills is being forced to marry a man she does not love, and rather than live a life of emptiness she drowns herself in a river. She is granted rebirth by a water spirit, and the daughter of the great sorcerer Wyr takes over part of Elise's spirit. A review for Bookbrowser.com praised Russell, noting that he "has brought epic fantasy to new heights. His characters are more goal-oriented than most fantasy figures. They know what they want and will go to any lengths to achieve it."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature, 1975-1991, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1992.
Books in Canada, March, 1993, George Kaufman, "Leaving Genre Behind," pp. 39-40.
Kirkus Reviews, July 1, 1998, "Space Capsules," p. 938.
Kliatt,September 1991, Michael J. DuCharme, review of The Initiate Brother, p. 28; May, 1993, Michael J. DuCharme, review of Gatherer of Clouds, p. 18; July, 1995, Gail E. Robert, review of World without End, p. 17; May, 1996, Gail E. Roberts, review of Sea Without a Shore, p. 19; January, 1999, Sherry S. Hoy, review of Beneath the Vaulted Hills, p. 20.
Locus,October, 1992, Carolyn Cushman, review of The Initiate Brother, p. 38; February, 1995, Carolyn Cushman, review of World without End, p. 29; June, 2002, Carlyn Cushman, review of The Isle of Battle, p. 35.
Quill & Quire,April, 1991, Gordon Graham, review of The Initiate Brother, p. 31; February, 1993, Gordon Graham, review of Gatherer of Clouds, p. 25.
Voice of Youth Advocates, October, 1991, Jan E.,V.,W. Hanson, review of The Initiate Brother, p. 249; June, 1998, Bonnie Kunzel, review of Beneath the Vaulted Hills, p. 134; December, 1998, Bonnie Kunzel, review of The Compass of the Soul, p. 372; October, 2001, Kat Kan, review of The One Kingdom, p. 294.
Bookbrowser,http://www.bookbrowser.com/ (September 6, 2002), Rickey R. Mallory, review of The Compass of the Soul; Harriet Klausner, review of The One Kingdom and The Isle of Battle.
Bookpage,http://www.bookpage.com/ (September 6, 2002), Gavin Grant, "The Land between the Mountains."
Flower Fire,http://www.flowerfire.com/ (September 6, 2002), Sara Lipowitz, review of Beneath the Vaulted Hills.
Green Man Review,http://www.greenmanreview.com/ (September 6, 2002), Naomi de Bruyn, review of The One Kingdom.
HarperCollins Web site,http://www.harpercollins.com/ (September 6, 2002).
SFF World,http://www.sffworld.com/ (September 6, 2002), Rob H. Bedford, review of The Isle of Battle and The One Kingdom; Brett Funk, review of Beneath the Vaulted Hills.
SF Site,http://www.sfsite.com/ (September 6, 2002), Rodger Turner, review of The Compass of the Soul and Beneath the Vaulted Hills; Lisa DuMond, review of The One Kingdom; author profile.
Yet Another Book Review,http://www.yetanotherbookreview.com/ (September 6, 2002), review of The Compass of the Soul.*