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Under Heaven Hardcover – April 27, 2010
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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)
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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.
Top customer reviews
I have to admit that it took a little while for me to get into the ancient China mojo. Once I was in, I was completely in.
You can always tell how much research he puts into his books.
I was a little let down by the end. He could have proved his point about all people and events just being blips in the stream of time AND still given us a better conclusion to the tales of the individual characters.
If you like GGK, then you will like this book. If you aren't familiar but like Fantasy/History/Literary blend, then give it a read or start with another of his offerings - Tigana, Lions of Al-Rassan, etc.
All in all. It was a thoroughly enjoyable read and I've already purchased the next book (not the same characters and set 600 years later).
Because I am powerless
To stop reading this book
This novel breaks the mold of most other fantasy books of our day. Like clockwork, it contains many pieces and elements that set it apart from others. It has mystery, sorrow and sword fights, but also a court that is equally as deadly, in its intricate fashion.
The story holds many elements and themes, but also many branching side story's that all come together in the end to form a great piece of work.
I will unveil nothing else about the plot to keep all possible surprises you may find in the book. And their are many good surprises. The reader will enjoy constantly uncovering an ever expanding world and it's secrets, which is the main reason this novel is so good.
I, honestly can't make many complaints other than wanting more elaboration given to Wei Song's back story.
Otherwise, any reader would love this book, especially those in tune with fantasy. Four stars.
This book opened up with a list of characters and a map, which scared me at first. I thought it'd be hard to keep track of everything. However, it was fairly easy. The author did an amazing job with characterization and setting. The female characters (especially Wei Song and Shen Tai's sister) were my favorite. I liked how they were rebels in their own right. Everyone in the story had their personalities fleshed out, and I could imagine the time period, the way they dressed, where they lived, etc. vividly. I was able to get lost in the world created.
This is the first book I've ever read that had the omniscience (non-person) point-of-view thrown in. So, I'd get intrigued by the action and plot, then I'd have to read through pages and pages of the different roles in the community, the rules of the land, etc. Sometimes it took me out of the story because those parts read like an essay. Normally, I finish a book in a day. This one took me seven days to finish; take that however you want.
From the moment Shen Tai met Wei Song, I knew there was a connection even though he was still pining over Spring Rain. Their scenes were always full of tension. My favorite line: "He wondered if this Kanlin woman knew this. He wondered why he cared." I loved his interactions with the two women, and I'm happy that my couple won in the end. I also enjoyed the sister's interactions with the man who was half man/half wolf. My favorite scenes were Wei Song in attack mode whenever someone tried to kill Shen Tai (she was feisty for a lady), whenever the poets were mentioned (they were treated like celebrities), the first time Shen Tai met Spring Rain again, and when the guy kidnapped Shen Tai's sister from the tents.
I RECOMMEND this book to read.
Kay is one of the best fantasy authors there is, in my opinion, as his tales are all beautifully written. If you are looking for a novel that will keep you interested until the very end, with passages that will play at your emotions, this is what you seek. He does an excellent job in describing a culture from the past, as he always does, this time in China. There is magic mixed in with the politics, and adventure in characters who are drawn upon a path they weren't very certain they'd see. The characters are developed so fully that you feel as if you know them, and can only cheer on his heroes and wish woe upon his villains. It is largely difficult to put down one of his novels.