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Under Heaven by [Kay, Guy Gavriel]
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Under Heaven Kindle Edition

4.4 out of 5 stars 219 customer reviews

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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: 1255 KB
  • Print Length: 736 pages
  • Publisher: Viking (May 18, 2010)
  • Publication Date: May 18, 2010
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0047O3APC
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #725,987 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Indy Reviewer VINE VOICE on April 29, 2010
Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Hardcover
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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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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