Guy Gavriel Kay.

digs

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*RESURRECTION*

IT'S HERE! IT'S HERE! I spent a good 5 minutes this afternoon staring at my new copy of the beautiful behemoth that is Under Heaven. And another five minutes dancing merrily around the room with it (also partly spurred on by having just finished work with a 3-day weekend looming ahead). I've only opened it as far as the map; I already love it.

I'm pretty excited. I'll let you guys know what I think of it when I start ploughing through...I want to finish all the lesser books I'm currently reading so that I'm not distracted. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to whisper sweet nothings to my new best friend.

P.S. Has anyone read Beyond This Dark House? I'd like to get it but I'm curious as to what it's like.
 

GOLLUM

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P.S. Has anyone read Beyond This Dark House? I'd like to get it but I'm curious as to what it's like.
No...but being a longtime fan of Guy's work it sounds fascinating, collecting his major poetry prior to his rise as an SFF author...:)
 

digs

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No...but being a longtime fan of Guy's work it sounds fascinating, collecting his major poetry prior to his rise as an SFF author...:)
Of GUY'S!? Are you two on first-name terms? If so, I'd like an introduction, his guarantee that he will endorse my first book (fingers crossed) and an autographed copy of each of his novels. And a million dollars.

On a serious note, I've read a tiny bit about what his poems are about and some seem fascinating. I've read a couple and they were good (not great), but I'm not much of a poetry connoisseur, and I don't think I read the best ones anyway.
 

GOLLUM

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Of GUY'S!? Are you two on first-name terms?

On a serious note, I've read a tiny bit about what his poems are about and some seem fascinating. I've read a couple and they were good (not great), but I'm not much of a poetry connoisseur, and I don't think I read the best ones anyway.
What makes you think we're not.....:rolleyes:

I'm not a huge Poetry fan myself but not being aware of his background as a poet, I'm certainly very much intrigued!
 

Clansman

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Yes, I too received Under Heaven this week. An excellent father's day gift from my wife. However, I am in the midst of Chain of Dogs by Erikson, and impressed with how he improves with each book...
 

digs

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So I've finally completed Under Heaven. Here are my thoughts and ramblings on it.

As I'd read in other reviews, it takes a little while to get going. I didn't find this particularly problematic - while I didn't feel the compulsion to devour the book, there was enough happening to maintain my interest. GGK is a master of subtle exposition; I got to a point about 100 pages in where I realised that I knew huge chunks of the protagonist's history and motivation without remembering any obtrusive infodumps. He knows how to inhabit his characters and how to expose their souls to the reader with a few well-chosen words.

Though the action does kick off a bit after the initial sequence, for me I never felt the same involvement as I did with, say, Lord of Emperors or The Lions of Al-Rassan. I just never felt that the overarching events in the novel mattered much to me, or even to some of the characters. What GGK does, and does excellently, is write on change and loss: in Tigana these themes are immediately obvious; The Sarantine Mosaic, The Lions of Al-Rassan and A Song for Arbonne are all about the transience of even the brightest cultures. This is also explored in Under Heaven, where GGK sets up his Kitai Empire (based on Tang China) and its capital Xinan as the epitome of the beauty and glory of civilisation. Much is made of the idiosyncrasies of the Kitan people: their love of poetry (a staple of GGK; the good guys always appreciate art), their total subserviance to emperor and state, their ingrained concepts of honour and shame.

It wasn't until this morning, when I read some of the background on the novel, that I realised how extensive GGK's research has been. Many of the characters and events of Under Heaven are based very closely on historical characters, particularly in the royal family. He hasn't created a new plot so much as transplanted one from history to a parallel world. And that's not a bad thing - it's one of his trademarks. Examining reality through the lens of a constructed world allows GGK to approach a story with fresh eyes, to bridge the gaps in the history books and take us right into the thick of things. And, generally, he does this exceptionally well.

In this case I just didn't really care.

Oh, I liked the characters, and the roll of events kept me reading, but it was nothing I haven't seen from GGK before. All the same characters were there: the noble, dutiful protagonist; his intelligent, quick-witted lover; his estranged family member(s); the beautiful, wise, scheming and courageous consort of the emperor. Yep, well-drawn as the emperor's concubine Wen Jian is, she's essentially a rehash of Alixana from The Sarantine Mosaic, and generally a less effective one. Except for in one breathtaking scene where GGK's mastery comes to the fore.

Though in some instances I felt the book a repetition of his other works, there were some parts that, in true GGK style, exploded off the page at me and made me want to weep with pure awesomeness and sometimes sorrow. The shock of a few things that happened near the end of the book will stay with me for a very long time. I would gladly have ploughed through a lesser book if it contained only one of those heart-rending moments.

One other thing irritated me a bit. GGK has a habit, which previously has gone over my head (or that I've appreciated), of making sweeping philosophical statements to underscore that his characters are not just characters, they are everymen, representatives of the reader in this world, and their trials and tribulations are, like, hard. For some reason I found it very clumsy and obtrusive in Under Heaven. He'll often say things like, 'A man has a choice to make, sometimes.' Or, 'There were sorrows in this world.' When done subtly, this works really well for GGK, giving the reader a sense that the characters' actions have a broader significance and important consequences in the setting of the book. In Under Heaven, for me, it wasn't very effective, perhaps because I've read so many of his other books that now it's starting to seem overutilised.

Overall I did really enjoy the book, probably much more than this review makes out. It's certainly not up there with Tigana, Al-Rassan, Arbonne or the Sarantine Mosaic for me, but it is a bit better than The Last Light of the Sun and streaks ahead of Ysabel. I probably wouldn't recommend it to a first-time GGK reader, but it's a must-read for an established fan.
 

K. Riehl

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I liked the book and I agree with Digs about not recommending it to a first time GGK reader. This book is the first Kay title I have picked up in a couple of years and while I can call it good, I can't say it's one of his best.

I would recommend Sean Russell's duology, Initiate Brother and Gatherer of Clouds as the quintessential "China that never was" story for new readers.
 
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