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Under Heaven [Kindle Edition]

Guy Gavriel Kay
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (188 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Inspired by the glory of Tang Dynasty China in the eighth century, Guy Gavriel Kay melds history and the fantastic into something both powerful and emotionally compelling. Under Heaven is a novel on the grandest narrative scale, encompassing the intimate details of individual lives in an unforgettable time and place. Shen Tai is the son of a general who led the forces of imperial Kitai in that empire's last war against their western enemies from Tagur, twenty years before. Forty thousand men on both sides were slain beside a remote mountain lake. General Shen Gao himself has died recently. To honour his father's memory, Tai has spent two years of official mourning alone at the battle site among the ghosts of the dead, laying to rest their unburied bones. One spring morning, he learns that others have taken note of his vigil. The White Jade Princess in Tagur is pleased to present him with two hundred and fifty Sardian horses, given, she writes, in recognition of his courage, and honour done to the dead. You gave a man one of the famed Sardians to reward him greatly. You gave him four or five to exalt him above his fellows, and earn him jealousy, possibly mortal. Two hundred and fifty is an unthinkable gift, a gift to overwhelm an emperor. Tai starts east towards the glittering, dangerous imperial capital and gathers his wits for a return from solitude by a mountain lake to his own forever-altered life.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Historical fantasist Kay (Ysabel) delivers an exquisitely detailed vision of Kitan, a land much like Tang Dynasty China. Shen Tai's father died leading troops in battle, so he spends his mourning year burying the bones of soldiers on both sides, laying their ghosts to rest. He attracts the attention of Cheng-wan, a princess of his people sent to wed one of the enemy. As her gifts make Shen Tai wealthy, an assassin kills his best friend. Shen Tai hires a bodyguard, Wei Song, to keep him alive while he figures out what to do with his riches and who wants him dead. Kay writes deftly of women who are sexually suborned by their societies, neither minimizing their constraints nor denying their agency, and the complex intrigues of poets, prostitutes, ministers, and soldiers evolve into a fascinating, sometimes bloody, and entirely believable tale. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Bookmarks Magazine

What a lush and expansive world Kay has created here, wrote the critic from the SF Review. Indeed, most critics were quite in awe of Under Heaven, an ambitious undertaking that proved almost impossible to put down. With its unparalleled character development and marvelous storyline, Kay's latest is sure to appeal to lovers of historical fiction and fantasy fiction, as well as to readers who never thought they'd pick up a fantasy novel. There were a few quibbles: one reviewer felt that secondary characters were occasionally lost in the crowd. Well, that's just part of life in the world of thick, world-building fiction. Under Heaven is a strong entry in that category.

Product Details

  • File Size: 799 KB
  • Print Length: 736 pages
  • Publisher: Viking (May 18, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0047O3APC
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #687,083 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
116 of 126 people found the following review helpful
Guy Gavriel Kay's "Under Heaven" is perhaps his best exercise to date in creating a rich world in which characters, politics, and an intricate plot collide, in this case the tale of an empire on the brink in an alternate early dynasty China, Tibet, and Mongolia. Unfortunately, Kay's decision to rapidly unwind the masterful plot in 50 pages shortchanges the work he does in the previous 500. 4 stars.

"Under Heaven" is Kay's first venture outside of European-based alternate world history, and as you'd expect, the academic underpinnings are extraordinarily well done - an author's note at the end describes much his original source material, and is probably worth the price of the book itself. (One note as to how far out of his comfort zone Kay ventures: a common theme for many Kay fans is the occasional link to Fionavar running through his books, and there's only a marginal such one in this.)

In a sentence or two, the plot isn't terribly complex: a middle son of a good but not great family finds himself suddenly thrown into the heart of palace intrigue and power in an Empire on the brink of change, with all the resulting tragedy and drama one would expect from that setting. The difference with Kay is that while far too many fantasy writers would destroy the setting with cardboard characters, Kay's strength is making them and their actions not just believable but engrossing.

"Under Heaven" plays to this, where constant first person exploration of the motivation of almost all of the critical characters means that the villains are not merely black and white but human, and whatever that takes away in villainous tendencies is more than made up for by keeping the reader on edge as to what they'll do next.
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52 of 56 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A rare, genre crossing novel April 29, 2010
I picked up this novel with some apprehension and great excitement also. GGK has honed some of my favorite novels, such as Tigana and The Lions of Al-Rasson. At the same time, his two most recent works have had much less impact upon me as a reader.

I am happy to say that Under Heaven harkens back to the former novels.

There are numerous strengths to this novel. The story is tightly written focusing on a central cast of characters. This is refreshing in an era where fantasy stories are told in trilogies, tetralogies, and even decalogies. In its scope, it is not epic fantasy. Rather it is fantasy that focuses on humanity. It focuses on the emotions, decisions, and experiences that define who we are. The characters are fully fleshed out, intimately written. Like GGK greatest works, he pulls you into the struggle of his cast of characters and then pulls on your heart strings as life and death bring change, for good or bad, to that cast. In this, I was reminded of the last chapters of Tigana, though this novel fell just short of that incredible standard for me.

It may even be incorrect to define this novel as fantasy. It has minor elements of fantasy, heavy elements of historical fiction, and above all is simply excellent literature. There is no magic and there are no non-human characters. However, the well written story should appeal to fans of any genre who are simply looking for a good read.

Are there weaknesses to the novel? Certainly none that are glaring or stood out to me. There are a few gritty scenes, but nothing that approaches that of modern fantasy standards set by GRRM or Joe Abercrombie.
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34 of 37 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Guy Gavriel Kay has built his (rightfully) strong reputation as a writer by melding together scrupulously researched history with just enough of the touch of the fantastic to bring his books into the realm of "fantasy." Some of his best books include re-imaginings of Renaissance Italy ("Tigana"), the Byzantine Empire (the two books of the "Sarantine Mosaic"), and Medieval Spain ("The Lions of Al-Rassan"). In "Under Heaven," Kay leaves medieval Europe behind but brings his unique approach to a re-imagining of Seventh Century Tang Dynasty China -- and this book is every bit as good as its predecessors!

In "Under Heaven," the action revolves around Shen Tai, son of a celebrated "Kitan" [Chinese] general. As the book begins, Shen Tai is on a quest to honor his deceased father's memory by burying some of the tens of thousands of bodies left from a titanic clash between the Empire of Kitai and its rival, the Kingdom of Tagur [similar to Tibet]. Here, Kay's trademark touch of the fantastic is initially provided by the fact that the tens of thousands of dead soldiers have left behind their very real--and very unquiet--ghosts, giving Shen Tai an aura of the holy man (or madman) in his quest to bury as many bodies as he can in an act of honor to his father. When his quest is honored with an extravagant gift of 250 legendary horses (when one such horse would be a fortune), Shen Tai does not know whether it is in fact a gift or akin to receiving "poison in a jeweled cup.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
if you don't like're just wrong!
Published 18 days ago by James G. Thorpe
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Great book, I loved every page!
Published 19 days ago by courtney
4.0 out of 5 stars Welcome to Ancient China
I've been a big fan of Guy Gavriel Kay ever since I first read the Fionovar Tapestry when it came as a single volume from my dad's membership in the Sci-Fi book club. Read more
Published 24 days ago by ItsFullofStars
5.0 out of 5 stars Many moving parts that come together to make a really good story.
Well written with a lot of research. Many moving parts that come together to make a really good story.
Published 28 days ago by Kindle Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars fantastic
An excellent ancient china inspired fantasy book, one of my best reads this year. It reminded me of Romance of the Three Kingdoms.
Published 1 month ago by J. E. Shopper
5.0 out of 5 stars GGK is the best author of our time.
GGK has 13 books. All of them are superb.
Published 1 month ago by Frank Knight
5.0 out of 5 stars awesome
Ggk writes beautifully and poetically. His stories are mythic in scope and full of sorrow and joy. I'm lucky to have read his stories
Published 2 months ago by barbara l perrone
5.0 out of 5 stars It was even better to go there and visit that world again
Have all of his books, but wanted to read this again, (as I have read most of them more than once), but wanted it in my Kindle library. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Allen E. Lynch
5.0 out of 5 stars Rich characterizations and a compelling story.
I think all readers enter into a story with their own set of expectations and hopes. Personally I like the author to draw me into a story through his/her characters. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Paul DiBara Sr.
2.0 out of 5 stars One long incredibly unbroken sentence moving from topic to topic...
This came recommended, which is usually a good sign, but by the time I was 40% through, I wanted this story to be over, and honest to god, it should have been. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Rabid Reader
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