Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay

Werthead

Lemming of Discord
Joined
Jun 4, 2006
Messages
2,100
Kitai, during the Ninth Dynasty. The Emperor has given the nation many years of peace and prosperity. Far to the west, in a valley where the last great battle between Kitai and Tagur was fought, a dutiful son pays homage to his dead father by burying the bones of the fallen. His honourable task is noted by the Tagurans who give him a princely gift: two hundred and fifty Sardian horses. You give a man one Sardian horse to honour him greatly, four or five to elevate him above all others. Two hundred and fifty is an overwhelming gift, a gift that instantly elevates Shen Tai into a player in Kitan politics.

These are perilous times. The First Minister and the empire's greatest general are feuding, the Emperor is distracted by his most favoured concubine and there is tribal dissent among the Bogu people beyond the Long Wall. Shen Tai and his family are thrust into the midst of great events, and find they and their horses may determine the balance of power, and of life and death, for many.

Under Heaven is Guy Gavriel Kay's eleventh novel, and marks a return to his favoured alternate-history setting and genre after the World Fantasy Award-winning Ysabel, which was a departure from his normal work. The setting this time is 8th Century China during the Tang Dynasty, during the lead-up to the colossal An Shi Rebellion (the most devastating war in human history until World War II, if the casualty figures are to be believed), although as normal the setting is lightly fictionalised, with characters and events hewing close to the originals but not quite replicating them.

Kay's China - Kitai - is a place of scheming nobles, courtly poise and etiquette and labyrinth conspiracies, all of which are depicted impressively. As normal, Kay is less interested in war and battles than in the human characters of the story, from Shen Tai and his ambitious brother Shen Liu to First Minister Wen Zhou, the poet Sima Zian and the women of the story (the Beloved Companion Wen Jian, Tai's sister Shen Li-Mei and the Kanlin warrior Wei Song), whose roles are crucial. Kay's grasp of character is as assured as ever, and he brings these people to life to the extent where the reader finds it impossible not to care about what happens to them next. Kay's grasp of emotion is as also finely-judged as ever, with moments of genuinely raw emotional power which never overreach into mawkishness.

The pacing is also well-handled, and the plot unfolds in a gripping manner. Kay shows greater confidence here as a writer than he has in some time, and his weaving of events, conspiracies and characters into a greater whole is impressive. This is easily his most assured and well-executed book since The Lions of Al-Rassan, if not ever. The only possible criticism I could find is that the ending is slightly abrupt, although the main storyline and character arcs are satisfyingly resolved.

Under Heaven (*****) is a superb book from one of our best writers working at the top of his game, and will likely be judged one of the strongest books of this year, in fantasy or otherwise. It is available now in the UK and USA.
 

svalbard

Well-Known Member
Supporter
Joined
Jun 28, 2007
Messages
2,355
I just picked this up yesterday and I am really looking forward to reading it as I lounge on the beach over the next few weeks.
 

svalbard

Well-Known Member
Supporter
Joined
Jun 28, 2007
Messages
2,355
I finished this over a marathon single session. Once again I was left astounded by the power of Kay's writing. He really messes with your emotions as you read. A clever piece of storytelling. My only critique was that he spent a lot of time setting the story up and then rushed the ending. I felt he had the material here for two books. That said I was satisfied on how the story played out and thought the very last page was as eloquent a piece of writing you will find anywhere.
 

ScottSF

ScottSF
Joined
Apr 12, 2006
Messages
472
This is definitely going on my 2013 reading list. I fell out of reading a bit but my momentum is picking up and the plus of being out if it a while is time of the authors I was eagerly waiting for another book from have stuff out.
 

Lord Soth

Mumbling though life
Joined
Aug 11, 2007
Messages
353
I loved this, and now I am reading the follow up River of Stars - its set some 400 years after Under Heaven but in the same land.
 

Suzecog

Active Member
Joined
Aug 20, 2013
Messages
35
I loved it too, I have all of his books except Ysabel which I read somewhere was written for the YA audience, so I got that out of the library, and although I enjoyed it, it just didn't have the same depth and intensity of his other works. I've just finished River of Stars and now I've got that awful empty feeling- what can I read now that will compare?
 

althea

If I won't be myself,who will be?
Joined
Oct 28, 2014
Messages
342
Location
North Wales
I love reading books about China,usually they are written by Chinese authors.
I adored this story.The writing was wonderful.I will read it again next year.
GGK recreates a true sense of old Chinese culture in this book.
 
Top