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Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay

Under Heaven

by Guy Gavriel Kay

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Under Heaven (1)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,445987,937 (4.13)208
Recently added byJarulf, Avasara, pcgardner, YouKneeK, vittithing, miri12, private library, jmoncton, DalkeithLibrary
  1. 130
    The Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay (Anonymous user)
  2. 10
    Shogun by James Clavell (ajwseven)
  3. 10
    A Shadow in Summer by Daniel Abraham (souloftherose)
  4. 32
    Bridge of Birds: A Novel of Ancient China That Never Was by Barry Hughart (Cecrow, MyriadBooks)
    Cecrow: A more playful fantasy take on ancient China.
  5. 10
    The Court of the Lion: A Novel of the T'Ang Dynasty by Eleanor Cooney (Cecrow)
    Cecrow: A historical fiction novel of the Tang Dynasty, ably relating the same events upon which 'Under Heaven' is based but in their actual Chinese setting.
  6. 00
    The Paladin by C. J. Cherryh (Anonymous user)
  7. 00
    In Love with the Way: Chinese Poems of the Tang Dynasty (The Calligrapher's Notebooks) by François Cheng (aulsmith)
    aulsmith: A historical novel about a Tang poet and the poetry of the period. If you like one, you should try the other
  8. 02
    Wildfire by Sarah Micklem (lottpoet)
    lottpoet: I think these books have in common a person caught up in the machinations of a highly formal society.
  9. 36
    A Storm of Swords by George R. R. Martin (axelsabro)
    axelsabro: alternate earth fantasy

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» See also 208 mentions

English (97)  Norwegian (1)  All languages (98)
Showing 1-5 of 97 (next | show all)
Under Heaven is a fantasy-ish story set in medieval China. There are fantastical elements, and they do play a pivotal role, but they aren’t at the forefront. My knowledge of Chinese history and geography is nearly non-existent, but I believe this book is based on fictitious locations and characters while being inspired by real ones. I enjoyed most aspects of the story, but I did feel like it occasionally dawdled and sometimes I got restless with it.

The story starts off with Shen Tai, a man who’s honoring his dead father during his mourning period by burying the dead at a battle site his father had been a part of. There are ghosts there that are slowly laid to rest as he buries the corresponding bodies. He buries bodies from both sides of the battle, and his actions are at first considered strange and then admirable. The admiration has unexpected results that bring about major changes for Shen Tai. This doesn’t even remotely encompass what this story is about, but the dawdling aspect means that I can’t really describe the plot without giving away things that are revealed pretty far into the book. The story starts out as one type of story, then slowly morphs into a different type of story around the halfway mark. Meanwhile, there are also some chapters that tell Tai’s sister’s story, and that is yet another type of story.

I’ve read a few books set in China, but not very many of them, and I enjoyed reading about a different and less-familiar setting. I don’t know how accurate the author’s portrayal of Chinese culture from that era was, but it felt believable while also being quite a bit different from the cultures portrayed in most fantasy I’ve read. I was intimidated by the names at first. The beginning of the book lists a large cast of characters with names I was afraid I would never be able to keep straight. In actuality, I didn’t need that list. The characters were introduced slowly, and the spellings among the most frequently seen characters were different enough that I was never confused. For all the characters, the author always gave the reader enough information to remember who they were when they showed back up in the story.

I was a little distracted by the mixed tenses. Some POVs were written in present tense and others were written in past tense. I think it was mostly (only?) the female POVs written in present tense? I tended to forget about it until the present tense showed up and jarred me a bit. It did give those sections a different feel that kind of added to the atmosphere, but I’m not sure if that was the whole point or if I missed something.

As I said, the story did occasionally feel slow when it dawdled a bit over the scene-setting and history and such, but it was never boring. I enjoyed the story and I liked the main characters. I think I was also more satisfied with the ending than I usually am with his books, although I would have enjoyed knowing more about what happened with some of the characters. One of the things I enjoy most about Guy Gavriel Kay’s writing is how he writes characters and their interactions with each other. I plan to continue on with River of Stars which I understand takes place in the same setting but about 400 years later. ( )
1 vote YouKneeK | Jun 12, 2019 |
1 vote miri12 | May 31, 2019 |
This was historic fiction with a touch of fantasy. I picked this because I had been reading books about modern China to prepare for a visit to the country. And although the history of modern China is fascinating, it's a bit depressing. There has been a lot of tragedy, death, and suffering in China's recent history, so I wanted a book about China, but more during the might and glory of the Empire. To be honest, this wasn't quite it. Yes, it was an intriguing story of all the intrigue and corruption behind the Tang Empire, and the characters were fascinating, but in the end, it was the story with a plot line similar to so many other tragic stories in fiction and fact. Heroes are created and sacrifice love and family to save an empire. Millions of people lose their lives and life goes on. So definitely, this is probably perfect for someone looking for that cast of millions epic story, but was a bit heavy for my current mood.

The audio narration was spectacularly performed by Simon Vance. ( )
  jmoncton | May 10, 2019 |
3.5 stars ( )
  natcontrary | May 21, 2018 |
Having hated Ysabel, I was very pleased to find Kay back to his usual excellence in Under Heaven. I've been reading him for many years and it has been interesting watching him mature as a writer (again, with the exception of Ysabel) from the Fionavar Tapestry days up to Last Light of the Sun and now this. Beautiful! ( )
  Siubhan | Feb 28, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 97 (next | show all)
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Guy Gavriel Kayprimary authorall editionscalculated
Springett, MartinMapsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vance, SimonNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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With bronze as a mirror one can correct one's appearance; with history as a mirror, one can understand the rise and fall of a state; with good men as a mirror, one can distinguish right from wrong.
to Sybil,
with love
First words
Amid the ten thousand noises and the jade-and-gold and the whirling dust of Xinan, he had often stayed awake all night among friends, drinking spiced wine in the North District with the courtesans.
And it isn't worth hating. It really isn't. . . . You did need to decide what mattered, and concentrate on that. Otherwise your life force would be scattered to the five directions, and wasted.

He would be among them today. And he couldn't learn that rhythm, not in the time he had. So he wouldn't even try. He'd go another way, like a holy wanderer of the Sacred Path choosing at a fork in the road, following his own truth, a hermit laughing in the mountains.
Sometimes fear is proper. It is what we do that matters.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Wikipedia in English (1)

Book description
An epic historical adventure set in a pseudo 8th century China, from the author of the 2008 World Fantasy winner, Ysabel. Under Heaven is a novel of heroes, assassins, concubines and emperors set against a majestic and unforgiving landscape.

For two long years Shen Tai has mourned his father, living like a hermit at the edge of the Kitan Empire, next to a great lake where a terrible battle was fought between the Kitai and the neighbouring Tagurans years before; a battle for which his father - a great general - was honoured, but never recovered from, and where the bones of 40,000 soldiers still lie exposed. To assuage some of his dead father's regret over the battle, Tai begins to bury the dead. His supplies are replenished by his own people from a nearby fort, and also - now that peace has been bought with the bartering of an imperial princess - by the Tagurans, for his long service to their dead. His seclusion is disturbed by a letter from the bartered Princess Cheng-wan. It contains a poisoned chalice: Tai has been gifted 250 Sardian horses for his service to the Taguran dead - highly-prized animals, long-desired by the Kitans for their cavalry. The owner of such a vast number would instantly be bestowed with great power and wealth. The horses are being held for him to claim, but getting to them alive, will be tricky. And that isn't Tai's only problem. As he makes ready to leave, another visitor arrives; this time from Xinan, his home in the south. Yan, Tai's childhood carousing companion, has made the colossal journey north with only a hired Kanlin guard for safety. The soft-bellied poet has risked so much because the news he carries is urgent; but before he can so much as greet his old friend, Yan is slaughtered by his Kanlin guard, who then turns her swords towards a defenceless Tai. The Princess's generosity has made Tai a target, but who wanted to kill him even before news of her gift had spread?

(c) Harper Collins
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Award-winning author Guy Kay evokes the dazzling Tang Dynasty of 8th-century China in a story of honor and power.

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