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Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay
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Under Heaven (edition 2011)

by Guy Gavriel Kay

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,116827,391 (4.15)159
Member:wagner.sarah35
Title:Under Heaven
Authors:Guy Gavriel Kay
Info:Roc Trade (2011), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 608 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****
Tags:fantasy, China, Tang Dynasty, alternative history, horses, war, epic, 2012

Work details

Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay

  1. 120
    The Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay (Anonymous user)
  2. 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.
  3. 10
    Shogun: A Novel of Japan by James Clavell (ajwseven)
  4. 00
    A Shadow in Summer by Daniel Abraham (souloftherose)
  5. 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
  6. 22
    Bridge of Birds: A Novel of Ancient China That Never Was by Barry Hughart (Cecrow, MyriadBooks)
    Cecrow: Another fantasy take on ancient China.
  7. 00
    The Paladin by C. J. Cherryh (Anonymous user)
  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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Showing 1-5 of 81 (next | show all)
In Under Heaven Guy Gavriel Kay once again shows just how good he is at epic storytelling. This is a fantasized version of China’s 8th century Tang Dynasty, and from the referrals to the one moon it is obviously set on a different world that his usual two moon stories are. From the opening chapter the reader is swept along following the story of Shen Tai, and to a lesser extent that of his sister Shen Li-Mei while around them swirls the treachery, duplicity and ultimately the open rebellion of the powerful and ambitious.

Using the fictionalized country of Kitai, with its complicated traditions, values and beliefs, as a backdrop, the author introduces and brings into the story his well-drawn, fully realized characters that are constantly surprising the reader as they evolve. I didn’t always agree with the characters choices, but every move was well thought out and made sense in the context of the story. Honor, duty, and patriotism were strong motivators. Even the most secondary of characters had depths and motives that added to the intensity of the book.

Under Heaven is a story that tries to find a balance between sheer adventure, political intrigue and romantic tension and for the most part it succeeds. The one area that I found a little lacking was the romance aspect, while the story unfolded in a believable way, I was hoping for some different outcomes. So although this is not my favorite book by this author, it is still a beautifully written, multi-layered epic that I enjoyed immensely. ( )
  DeltaQueen50 | Jun 21, 2015 |
Shen Tai has spent the majority of the mourning period for his celebrated father laying to rest the ghosts of dead soldiers who fought in the last war between Kitai and the neighbouring Tagurans. Both sides of the former conflict ensure that he has enough provisions to sustain him during this solitary task and it is on one such supply run that a letter arrives that will shape his destiny and send ripples through the Kitan empire as the news spreads ahead of his return. A gift from the former princess of KItai and now royal consort of Tagur to honour his service to the dead. One Sardian horse would greatly reward a man, four or five would exalt him and possibly earn him a death sentence from jealous rivals but the gift of 250 of the magnificent animals is unprecedented. A stipulation that he must collect the horses in person may just be enough to keep him alive when he returns home and decide how he can deal with this gift. Tai's new found wealth necessitates a visit to the imperial court where much has changed in his absence. Political intrigue abounds with the new prime minister seemingly at loggerheads with a favoured general. How will Tai's arrival with the prospect of so many horses to dispose of upset the balance of power?

This book is set in an alternate version of China around the time of the T'ang Dynasty and includes elements of fantasy and the supernatural throughout. Shamanistic rites, fox spirits and ghostly occurrences all feed into the story and drive the narrative to varying degrees. A wonderful lead character supported ably by a Kanlin warrior, Wei Song, who accompanies him on his journey as his newly acquired bodyguard and Sima Zian, the Banished Immortal and foremost poet of the age, who tags along as it promises to be an interesting trip. It's not just well-rounded characters that draw you in as the setting which they inhabit is also vividly portrayed. From the remote valley at the outset of the story to the sumptuous and slow moving life at the imperial court of Xinan in Kitai and the steppes of a neighbouring country. The only slight let down was the exposition heavy conclusion as the author uses historians to wrap up what happened to all the major players that appeared throughout the tale. It jars a little with the rest of the book which is very much character driven but it is still an enchanting read. ( )
1 vote AHS-Wolfy | Jun 17, 2015 |
This book never really sucked me in. It wasn't unpleasant, but it also wasn't particularly exciting, intriguing, funny, or dramatic.

If you're interested in a slightly fantastical story in a Chinese-analogue setting, this might be your bag. Otherwise, pass it up.

My recommendation is instead to read Barry Hughart's "Bridge of Birds", which is a humorous and more folktale-flavored take on the same sort of Chinese Fantasy. ( )
  wishanem | Jan 27, 2015 |
Set in 9th century China during the Tang Dynasty -- alternative history. Shen Tai buries the dead after a battle in which his father died, living alone in the mountains for two years, then returns to the capitol city of Kitai where the government is in turmoil. His brother is at the center. Many die. Poetry imagery, love, sensuality. Great world-building and historical detail, witty court intrigue, characters, lovely use of language. Pacing is slow and langorous ( )
  jenzbaker | Jan 13, 2015 |
ORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.

Guy Gavriel Kay’s latest historical fantasy, Under Heaven, is gorgeous. If you’re already a fan of GGK, you know exactly what kind of delight you’re in for. Under Heaven is every bit as wonderful as Tigana, A Song for Arbonne, and The Last Light of the Sun. Every bit.

Under Heaven takes place in Kitai — an alternate Tang Dynasty (but not so alternate that you won’t recognize the names of many of the characters if you read just a brief history of the Tang Dynasty). The civilization and culture is experiencing a golden age and family honor is one of the highest ideals. Shen Tai, in order to honor his dead father, has spent two solitary years burying the bones — and silencing the ghosts — of thousands of men who died in a battle between Kitai and neighboring Tagur. Just as his mourning period is about to end, three strange things happen almost simultaneously: a friend shows up with urgent news from the capital city Xinan, an assassin is sent to kill Shen Tai, and the princess of Tagur gives Shen Tai 250 Sardian horses — an incomprehensibly valuable gift that instantly catapults him to the highest ranks of Xinan society. Now Shen Tai must journey back to Xinan, he’s got assassins on his tail, he doesn’t know who he can trust, and he has no idea that war is brewing and his return may be the catalyst.

I’ve already said that Under Heaven is just as gorgeous as Kay’s previous historical fantasies: It’s well-researched, carefully constructed, tightly plotted, and beautifully written. The mingling of the real and the magical is delicate — there are no wizards or wands, but just the acknowledgment of the existence of the supernatural and the weird. Most impressively, GGK’s work is always full of poetry, passion, and life. His characters, those who play major roles and minor ones, feel like real people and, whether we like them or not, we come to understand their histories, motivations, frustrations, and desires. We smile when they laugh, our hearts race when they’re afraid, and we cry when they mourn.

Another feature that sets Kay’s historical fantasies apart from others is his ability to completely immerse us in a real culture without telling us that he’s doing so. Some historical writers feel the need to drop names, exposit, and lecture. In contrast, Guy Gavriel Kay brings a historical period to life without making us feel like we’re reading a textbook or that we’re required to admire his research and knowledge. Since we spend most of our time in Mr. Kay’s characters’ heads, I also appreciate that these characters are all fictional (Mr. Kay explains why he does it this way in the introduction and I completely agree with his philosophy).

I read Penguin Audio’s version of Under Heaven, narrated by Simon Vance. For years Mr. Vance has been one of my favorite narrators, and he’s wonderful here, as usual. If you’re an audiobook reader, you’ll definitely want to try this version read by the incomparable Mr. Vance. Regardless, you don’t want to miss Under Heaven — it may be the best fantasy novel of 2010. ( )
  Kat_Hooper | Apr 6, 2014 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Guy Gavriel Kayprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Vance, SimonNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
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.
—LI SHIMIN, TANK EMPEROR TAIZONG
Dedication
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.
Quotations
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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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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