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Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay

Under Heaven (edition 2011)

by Guy Gavriel Kay

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1,280906,141 (4.13)185
Title:Under Heaven
Authors:Guy Gavriel Kay
Info:Roc Trade (2011), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 608 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:fantasy, China, Tang Dynasty, alternative history, horses, war, epic, 2012

Work details

Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay

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    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.
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Showing 1-5 of 89 (next | show all)
[This review originally appeared at RevolutionSf.com]

Under Heaven is the story of Shen Tai, second son of a famous Kitan general, who mourns his father's death by traveling to the site of his father's greatest battle and burying the dead of both sides. For two years he puts the ghosts to rest, then he gets a gift to cement a treaty: 250 of the finest horses. One would be an honor. Five would be worthy of a gift to the Emperor. 250 is life-changing.

Shen Tai must head back to his former life to try and dispose of his great gift before he's killed for it. His travels bring him into contact with Kanlin warriors, warrior/poets, and eventually the Kitan court, where intrigue and treason is the name of the game. Shen Tai must pick his way carefully between the factions, all the while obeying the rigid rules of the Kitan court.

Kitan is based on Tang-dynasty China, and you don't have to look too hard to see Shaolin monks and Mongol warriors among the parade of characters. Kay has clearly done his homework, and the world he has created feels completely real.

He is equally strong with characters, putting together wildly varied people whose actions always make sense in the context of their world. You feel for these people, and I don't just mean the good guys.

Kay also shines in depicting the intricacies of the Kitan court, from the bureaucratic mandarins jockeying for power and position to the Precious Consort, a young girl wielding unimaginable power because an aging Emperor is besotted with her.

Kay skillfully weaves all of these threads together, creating a huge tapestry of a story that rarely drags. Whether you prefer sword fights, romance, or intrigue, you'll find something to enjoy in Under Heaven. ( )
1 vote Mrs_McGreevy | Nov 17, 2016 |
4.5 / 5 ( )
  Amanda105 | Sep 5, 2016 |
Another of Kay's ahistorical fictions, this one set in a variation on Teng Dynasty China. Setting and characterization are both good, but the plot has a number of major holes (a significant subplot involving the protagonist's sister seems entirely pointless, though a sequel is forthcoming). I probably enjoyed this about as much as Kay's other latter-day stuff (The Last Light of the Sun; The Sarantine Mosaic), but it lacks the careful plotting of the Finonavar books, or Tigana, or even the Lions of al-Rassan. ( )
  seans88 | Aug 30, 2016 |
Guy Gavriel Kay's "Under Heaven" is a low fantasy novel set in a fictionalized version of Medieval China. Kay is a skilled writer, who uses beautiful language, and his characters are complex and deep. On the downside, the plot is rather simplistic and not especially compelling, serving mostly as a simple motive to get the characters moving across the landscape and talking to each other. Kay spends many pages on characters' introspection, memories, and feelings. Questions of decorum, propriety, social status, and proper behavior are central to characters' lives. Real action in the book's "present" is uncommon and special. Overall, I enjoyed the book, I appreciated the China-inspired setting, and I can see that Kay is a skilled writer. However, his thoughtful, introspective, character-focused style isn't what I happened to be looking for in a fantasy novel. ( )
  jrissman | Jun 17, 2016 |
Under Heaven – Guy Gavriel Kay

5 stars

“The world could bring you poison in a jeweled cup, or surprising gifts. Sometimes you didn’t know which of them it was.”

Here is a truly epic adventure set in 8th century China of the Tang Dynasty. The story concerns Shen Tai, second son of a famous general. As the story begins Tai is coming to the end of the two year mourning period for his father. Contrary to custom, Tai has honored his father by taking on the great and impossible labor of burying the thousands of bones left from a catastrophic battle. This great labor has attracted attention in the Empire and beyond. Tai is about to receive a gift that will change the course of his life; 250 Sardian horses, from the hands of the enemy.

“ It was never wise, Bystan had decided on his way here from the fort, to underestimate the influence of women at a court”

There are some mild elements of fantasy or magical realism in two of the plot lines of this book, but overall the story reads like detailed, evocative, historical fiction. The characters are well developed and their relationships are complicated. Tai becomes a pawn within the convoluted and dangerous machinations of court politics. The story builds around the actions of four very different women. There are shattering consequences for Tai and the Dynasty.

This was definitely a work of historical fiction, but I was reminded of Frank Herbert’s Dune. Tai comes from the stark environment of the Steppes to be thrown into the opulence and deviance of court politics. There are battle scenes and hand to hand combat, betrayals and executions. There are those in power who are despicably evil and those with true honor and bravery. It was a wonderful story. There are parallels in the characters and the situations, but I think it reminded me of Dune mostly because of Kay’s amazing ability to build the civilization. I feel as if I've been there.

I had both the printed copy and the audio version. Simon Vance read beautifully as usual.
( )
  msjudy | May 30, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 89 (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
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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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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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