Read Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay Online


NATIONAL BESTSELLERA Globe and Mail Top 100 BookA Washington Post Best Fiction Book Each night for two years Shen Tai has listened to the ghosts of dead soldiers in the darkness outside his isolated cabin. In honour of Tai’s recently deceased father, a celebrated general who led the imperial army in battle here, he has devoted himself to the solitary task of burying the bNATIONAL BESTSELLERA Globe and Mail Top 100 BookA Washington Post Best Fiction Book Each night for two years Shen Tai has listened to the ghosts of dead soldiers in the darkness outside his isolated cabin. In honour of Tai’s recently deceased father, a celebrated general who led the imperial army in battle here, he has devoted himself to the solitary task of burying the bones left lying by the mountain lake. But as Tai prepares for his return to a brilliant, dangerous court, he receives news of an extraordinary gift. A gift that could change the empire—or end his life.In Under Heaven, Guy Gavriel Kay tells a story of honour and power, treachery and love, in a setting that evokes the dazzling Tang Dynasty of eighth-century China....

Title : Under Heaven
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780143168751
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 716 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Under Heaven Reviews

  • Khanh (the meanie)
    2019-01-30 16:40

    Sometimes, words fail me when I need them most. Oftentimes, it's because a book is so bad that I don't even know where to begin listing all the problems. In this case, in the case of my very favorite books, the right words just escape me because there's just nothing I can say. Because my simple, stupid words are meaningless when it comes to describing the pure, untarnished brilliance of this book. I am simply humbled. It's like thanking the one of the great living people on earth, someone one truly admires, like the Dalai Lama. Is there anything one can say that doesn't come off sounding trite? "I admire everything you've done." Really? Is there anything one can say that doesn't sound like a vast understatement, that doesn't make a person wince as they hear the clash of such stupid little words in the presence of such greatness? It is cruel how words often fail us at the most crucial moments.There are words, then there are words. There is a difference between slapping words together in order to create a coherent sentence versus weaving words together in a composition of unparalleled artistry. A well-woven sentence speaks to the heart, it sings to the spirit. Words can bring forth feelings of outraged anger. Words can sooth a restless mind. Words can be strung together in a simple sentence that makes no relevance in the context of the book, yet is so beautiful in its simplicity. Words can bring that familiar sting of tears to your eyes as you read, and reread, and reread, a passage that is written with such simple poignancy.There are books with plots that hold your attention span from the first word to the last, filled with action, intrigue, suspense. This is not one of these books. The words in this book are to be savored, because it is poetry in prose. You will find no pretentious writing here. The prose is sparse, simple, direct, no dictionary required. But that's the power of words, the ability to take a simple vocabulary which a grade schooler can read and assemble it in such a way that the wise can understand. Guy Gavriel Kay is a master of prose.In theory, this book shouldn't have appealed to me at all. I am a creature of minimal attention span. My mind, my eye constantly seeks novelty. I multitask every waking moment. Yet this book is loved, and has been beloved by me since I first read it, years ago. This book is not slow in its pace, but it is interspersed with reflections, narratives, observations regarding the deeper meanings underneath.It is a high fantasy that feels more like a historical. It is the story of a weary soldier who abates his guilt, his ghosts, both real and imagined, by burying the bones of soldiers left where they fell, on a long-forgotten battleground. In return for this unwarranted act of kindness, he is awarded 250 prized horses.You gave a man one of the Sardian horses to reward him greatly. You gave him four or five of those glories to exalt him above his fellows, propel him towards rank--and earn him the jealousy, possibly mortal, of those who rode the smaller horses of the steppes.The Princess Cheng-wan, a royal consort of Tagur now through twenty years of peace, had just bestowed upon him, with permission, two hundred and fifty of the dragon horses.What follows is Shen Tai's journey, interwoven with others whose fate is destined to weave with his own. In essence, the Princess has awarded Shen Tai with an honor so great that it might send him to his death. Royalty is like that. They never consider the consequences of their grand actions.We follow Shen Tai as he travels home. The dead are dead, not forgotten, and always restless. We see the politics between courts in play. We meet a Kailin assassin, honor-bound to protect Shen Tai with her life. We see the roots of a revolution take place. There is death. There is betrayal. There is heartbreak. There is sibling rivalry and loyalty to the blood. There is a deep friendship and understanding between two men who should have been enemies. We see women live their lives behind a gilded cage, seemingly powerless, relying only on their beauty, subterfuge, and wit; for them, few men are to be trusted.There are limits to what a woman in her position can know, however intelligent and committed she might be. There are too many constraints on someone confined to the women’s quarters of a compound or a curtained sedan chair, relying for information on infatuated servants.There have always been such limits. It is the way of things, and not all men are foolish, though it might seem otherwise at times.We witness their fates, their separate lives as they intersect, through the simple act of an unparalleled gift. A gift that might destroy a nation.In my life, I have been a disinterested Buddhist at best, and an angry atheist at worst. I've never believed in the concept of a soul. This book makes me feel like there's more to me than just the physical; if I don't have a soul, how can something within me feel so much peace?Branching paths. The turning of days and seasons and years. Life offered you love sometimes, sorrow often. If you were very fortunate, true friendship. Sometimes war came.You did what you could to shape your own peace, before you crossed over to the night and left the world behind, as all men did, to be forgotten or remembered, as time or love allowed.

  • Kelly
    2019-01-23 14:53

    (Dear Goodreads friends I may have deceived with my initial status updates on this book, please to accept my profound regrets and the below revised retraction- if you don't mind some spoilers...With apologies,Kelly...)So, you guys saw Clerks, right? Actually, I think it might’ve been Clerks II, but anyway: there’s one part where some characters pose a very important nerd battle: Star Wars trilogy vs. LOTR trilogy. The major points are as per usual, Darth Vader and lightsabers, BOOM EXPLODING PLANET, etc vs…, as the Clerks gentlemen put it: “three movies about walking!” LOTR nerds usually fire back with something about “myths, legends, deeper meaning, invented a whole language… you heathen peasants!” (For a definitive opinion on this important subject, please see Dr. Oxford: ). Now, you guys, I’ve watched Fellowship of the Ring an unhealthy amount of times, you know I love me some 1000 pages of Victorian nonsense about nothing, and The Music of Repressed Piano is the rhythm of my heart, but right after finishing Under Heaven, I’m definitely more in sympathy with my Star Wars nerds.Under Heaven is a trilogy within a very large stand alone epic. First book: Awesome. Second book: NO. Third book: Ultimately fails due to the flaws in set up of the second book, but could have been better. Also, A.S. Byatt should sue. I’ll explain.Act I: He had me from his ghostly cries at night. I adored this set up- Kay places us by a lake in northern China- ahem, Kitai-, near the border with the powerful Taguran empire. A huge battle took place there twenty years ago, and as a result the bones of a hundred thousand soldiers lie unburied, their ghosts grieving and haunting the night. Shen Tai, the second son of the man who won the battle here for Kitai, has returned to grieve for his dead father by burying as many men as he can here- from both sides, for the duration of the formal two and a half year mourning period. I’ve come to expect rapture from Kay- I did not get it here, but I did get a wonderfully contemplative, quiet opening that seemed to speak of a more mature, measured writer. His contrast of poetic lyrics with living images was quietly lovely. He did an excellent job depicting his main character as a man on the cusp of life, of choosing a path, and all the problems that go with that- he did a particularly excellent job of evoking that sensation of closing doors, of Sylvia Plath’s dropping figs. I adored the echoes of the dead and real life bouncing off each other as Shen tries to find his “balance” (yes, there is a bit of basic yin-yang philosophy here) in life. He also sets up what turned out to be my favorite parts of the book: Interludes (which happen throughout the book) in which a third-person omniscient voice from the future looks back on the story being told lyrically expounds upon the difference between experienced events and recorded history- the idea that historical “truth” lies somewhere in between prejudice, perspective, imperfect records, and the narrative being told. It’s somewhere between an elegy and an amused critique of the idea of “history,” and it works very well. Plot wise, he sets up a great relationships for Shen Tai: with the Taguran captain, his lost concubine love, and the foreshadowing of his complicated relationship with his brother. There are hints of darkness closing in, and the close of the act delivers a perfect POW to the face that demands change.Act II: I just… I just don’t know what Kay was thinking here. I don’t get it. I kind of wanted to turn to the alternative ‘Choose My Own Adventure’. He just turned the wrong way. I don’t know what else to tell you guys. I felt like that horse in Beauty and the Beast when the old dad tells him to turn down the creepy-ass road that’s clearly going to get everyone involved murdered, and his face is all, “Bitch kidding?” He left his perfectly wonderful story for three other ones, two of which were INCREDIBLY BORING. Shen Tai becomes the incarnation of three movies about walking- the Hollywoodized version. Of the 300 pages that it takes for him to get to the capitol, here's an approximation of how he spends his share of pages:50 pages: Thinking about how he hasn’t had a woman in two years50 pages: Being turned on by tufts of wind that may have been near the various goddess like women that populate the pages of this book50 pages: Receiving important information (in a whorehouse)- and having it repeated later20 pages: Mildly important plot events2 pages: Having repartee he believes is witty with a woman1 page: Actually having sexThe remainder of the pages are taken up by alternate storylines. Kay has always been one of the best among fantasy writers about giving women their due, and here he really does surpass himself. The women are everywhere. I’d say their stories dominate the book, actually. He should get some props for that. Unfortunately, of the four major women, two were stereotypes and one was boring, and the other one got TOTALLY SHAFTED for incredibly lame theme reasons. There were no Dianoras here, no Jehanes, no Catrianas. We spend a good 200 pages with Shen Tai’s sister and it’s quite dull. I mean, ostensibly, she’s a cool Strong Woman and all, but he just doesn’t have any passion about her and it shows. The women he does have passion for are the ones you would expect him to: the ones that are exquisite, beyond beautiful, and sexually confident. The one female character who did emerge as a fully formed person with a layered story… ends up totally not mattering at all! What a waste! And not in a beautifully thematic sort of way. There’s just no coherence here- there’s no woven tapestry like there typically is. Usually in those moments, you get some kind of character development to make up for it. Not in this case, as you see above: riding, thinking about women, recapping plot, the end. It feels like he just chose the wrong story to tell to me. I wanted him to stick near the border, stuck between two forts (what a great story that would’ve been!), I wanted his sister to get captured by brigands and become a pirate queen or something, or why not tell us more about the Silk Road that you brought up continuously in the first 100 pages and then totally dropped in favor of events in the east. Why not meet the mysterious princess who offered Shen Tai so great a gift? Oooh, there are tigers down south and jungles to explore in India… so why aren’t we there? He talks a lot about the stories history doesn’t tell, those shunted to the side… and then proceeded to do that in his story- come on! That might've been part of the point, but we as readers should've gotten one of the more interesting choices, no? One of my English teachers used to circle off hand sentences at the bottom of a secondary argument and say, “Why didn’t you write about this instead??” I know how she felt now. Shen Tai was a potentially interesting character that was totally wasted on the rest of this book.Act III: We finally get where we’re going. Unfortunately, the people we’re being brought to meet are not at all worth the wait. They're are caricatures of previous Kay characters, who’ve been done better before. I don’t even like Fionavar that much, and I thought the heir to the throne was a poor man’s Diarmuid, the emperor’s consort a pale imitation of the empress from the Sarantine Duology, etc, etc. He just gave me all the hallmarks, but didn’t put any soul into them. He gave me the customary language about being in awe and adoration of these people and didn’t really give me much to adore- everyone was much too distant and wasn’t there for long enough. The big climatic scene that’s supposed to be a tragedy fails because we weren’t set up to care. The romance pissed me off: a perfect example of Kay pausing at a fork in the road and taking the banal road, one that came up out of the blue I might add (a total Alessan-Catriana special), as opposed to the one he’d beautifully set up from the very beginning, involving the only character I really cared about. (This is where the AS Byatt thing comes into play- he seriously has the whole lost letter thing from Possession happen, with the same imagery, making the same point, rather clumsily, I thought.) I think I was supposed to just softly weep my heartbreak, but it just rung up as yet another poor storytelling choice. This happened repeatedly, with all the best stuff from Act I: with the family drama he set up at the beginning (totally wasted), the possibly ambiguous villains (they turn out to be black and white), and Shen Tai’s involvement with the larger events of the empire (just involved enough to make me want to follow that story, not involved enough to actually follow through). And then, as if in parody of this whole thing, he committed the worst LOTR movie sin of them all: The perilously long epilogue where it takes twelve tries to say goodbye… mostly to characters who have been tragically oversimplified beyond hope of any connection. I already had my idea for this review in my head and almost couldn’t believe it was happening as I read it.It wasn’t a bad book. It just failed to live up to its potential. You know, I just wrote a whole review of Kay’s earliest work, making fun of him for being in constant, throbbing ecstasy all the time. It turns out the pendulum can swing too far in the other direction. In painful irony, this was a novel about balance, too.Overall: It’s like my mom said after I took her to see Into the Woods: “Told you nothing good could come of staying after the first act.”

  • Paul O'Neill
    2019-02-06 18:41

    Here the world is all the world may be.A powerful blend of historical fiction and fantasy, Kay delivers a great story about loss and honour. This story is about Shen Tai who, after spending two years in mourning over the death of his father burying the bones and being haunted by their ghosts, is sent an unexpected gift of 250 Sardian horses, otherwise known as ‘heavenly horses’. This instantly puts him in a position of power and Tai must decide what to do with this gift. Set during a fantasized version of the Tang dynasty in eighth century China, Kay is able to create a majestic atmosphere. I really enjoyed the role that poetry plays in the world. Poetry is really important and Tai meets, and then travels with a famous poet and they share poems amongst themselves often. I really enjoyed the romantic elements of this book, and that’s something I don’t think I’ve ever said in a book review before. Check out all my book blogs at format: Kindle ebookLength: 567 pagesReading difficulty: MediumPOV: Mainly follows Tai and his sister Li-Mei but it does jump to other viewpointsPerson: ThirdChronology: LinearWritingKay’s writing is magnificent! He can carry emotions well and as such, the impactful elements of this story really stand out. The poems featured within were really good, for the most part. This book is infinitely quotable; here are some of my favourite bits:There was a new hole in the world where sorrow could entera red violence was approaching from the eastVengeance could give birth to horrors not to be spoken aloudBranching paths. The turning of days and seasons and years. Life offered you love sometimes, sorrow often. If you were very fortunate, true friendshipBitter wind blows battle smokeWild geese and cranes fly.Later, moon’s disk in the water. Plum blossoms mirrored in the river, Until they fall.It is difficult to feel that your life means anything under this skyRed song of war arrows, red sunThe demons could triumph, take any man’s soul, carry it off as a prize to their own red kingdomCharactersThe story follows Tai mostly, who is a very honourable character and very interesting. Kay was able to make me feel is struggle and care about what happens to him throughout. To me, this book should’ve focused more on Li-Mei, Tai’s sister, and Meshag. Their ‘relationship’ was tremendously interesting and I wanted to see more of this. I thought it was very unique. Notable issuesA few of the side characters do blend into one another at various points. There wasn’t much unique about a lot of the minor characters which led to me having to stop and check that I had the correct person in my mind. Kay does go a bit overboard with commas, but this is more of a style point. It’s also a bit long in the tooth sometimes but it’s a well thought out story.Final thoughtIf you’re looking for dragons and wild fight scenes, look elsewhere. This story, and Kay’s other works are what I like to term ‘Grown up’ historical fantasy. It’s subtle and it blends historical elements with great characters along with an emotional story. If you are looking for a book that makes you “feel something”, I’d highly recommend this, or Tigana, which is one of my favourite books of all time.

  • K
    2019-01-31 14:55

    How to Write Pretentious Historical Fiction1. Start with an exceedingly slow build-up -- the more detail, the better. If your book is lengthier, people will assume it's more literary.2. Choose an exotic time period and locale and evoke it wherever possible. Hopefully the fascinating food and clothing details will help your reader forget that there was no indoor plumbing. Then, proceed to superimpose all sorts of anachronistic qualities on your story to appeal to contemporary readers' fantasies and sensibilities -- empowered women, sensitive men, etc.2. Make sure your hero/heroine is a Mary Sue: a. Men should be strong and macho, feared and/or respected by those around them. These men should also have a sensitive side -- they sense all kinds of subtle things about the people around them, and treat their women surprisingly well considering the mores of the time (which we'll relegate to the back burner along with the lack of indoor plumbing). A little self-doubt on your hero's part can be a good thing, but it should never interfere with his behaving in a confident and forthright manner. b. Women should be attractive and feisty, strong-willed but always in an endearing way. Every man the heroine meets secretly lusts after her. The hero will probably rescue her at least once from one of her drooling or bullying admirers.3. You can enhance your hero or heroine's Mary Sue-ness by writing in the third person omniscient and giving all the peripheral characters (of which there are many, of course) admiring thoughts about them. 4. Characters' inner thoughts can also be peppered with historical details you want to share with your readers -- why let all that research go to waste?5. Plot? You're worried about plot? Oh, please. With all these other accoutrements, your book can simply proceed along formulaic Harlequin lines. Give your character a quest of some kind, and/or a secret role in some political intrigue. Shroud this in details and complications so readers get distracted from any plot holes. Don't forget the love story and lots of steamy scenes. 6. Try to manipulate your readers' emotions wherever possible. All children must be precocious and consistently cute; bonus points if they break your reader's heart by dying. Include some wise and saintly characters who can also be killed off. There should be at least one scene where your hero or heroine rescues someone who's being abused or bullied in some way.7. Villains should be as evil as possible. They are usually ugly and off-putting, although they may be deceptively attractive. All your characters should hate them, unless they're hitching their wagon to them.8. If you need inspiration, there seems to be no shortage of books of this nature to serve as models. And they tend to have really high goodreads ratings!

  • David Sven
    2019-01-31 14:55

    Guy Gavriel Kay gives us a fantasized historical fiction of Tang China. What does that mean exactly? A little hard to explain. It feels very authentically like 8th century China complete with the Great Wall keeping the Bogu (barbarian) tribes at bay, the Capital Xinan, and the politics and intrigues of the Imperial court. Then throw in an element of the supernatural/preternatural, with restless ghosts and wandering undead.After the death of the honoured General Shen Gao, his son, Shen Tai our main protagonist, undergoes his two year mourning period at the battlefield where his father won a great victory. Countless dead from his father's battle as well as battles before lie unburied under the stars, their ghosts wailing night after night. To honour his father's memory, Shen Tai spends his days burying the bones of friend and foe alike, silencing screams one tormented soul at a time.Before Shen Tai is due to return home, the enemy side honour his service with a gift of such value that it has the potential to threaten the balance of power at the Imperial court.Kay's prose was superb as I expected from reading Tigana which is the only other Kay book I've read. This book is a slow burn with all the dramatic tension driven by political intrigue. I though the plot dragged in the second half and in a story where as much is conveyed by what is not said, and what is not done the climax points were a little too understated. I also wish there was either more focus on the fantasy elements or no fantasy elements at all. It could read just as well as a straight up historical fiction, but at times felt like it didn't know what it wanted to be.I liked Tigana better but that's more personal taste. At the end of the day, the characters in this book were well crafted, the setting authentic, and the writing superb. I'm giving this one4 stars.Tigana review

  • Carol.
    2019-02-03 18:47

    Delicious, a meaty, engrossing book with prose that brushed the edges of poetry. In some ways, it is three different books that might have benefited from being turned into full novels, but that's part of the joy of Kay's work-- he always has me wishing there was more time to explore relationships, back stories, and so on. It's an unusual setting for the type of fantasy I read, set in ancient China during the Tang Dynasty, a golden age of China's power. He wove the characters together in one of those plot lines where a single decisions coupled with coincidence prove disastrous, with far-reaching and unintended consequences. If you like Kay's style and prose, this is worth reading strictly for the enjoyment of his language.

  • Alex Ristea
    2019-01-25 13:39

    I've said it before, but I'll say it again.Guy Gavriel Kay's works are a celebration of the English language. It is simply beautiful to read.Kay started out as a poet, and that's clearly evident in Under Heaven, where not a word is out of place.The themes of this book are subtle, and will only hit you after some time has passed for digestion. Truth, stories, people, memory, history. The whole time I was reading I thought this book would be 4 stars, but after a few sleeps on it, I can't get it out of my head.This is not your traditional book, and I don't think I've ever read anything like it.The author has an uncanny ability for truth bombs. You'll be reading along, and just a couple of lines will change the way you look at life.I know that sounds cheesy, but bear with me.There are a few key poignant moments where I actually had to stop reading, close my eyes, and just sit. I have no idea how he does it, but Guy Gavriel Kay has pierced the depths of my identity and made me feel much more vulnerable than I'm comfortable with.Aside from that, the author is incredible at writing historical settings, and if you're looking for a novel set in China, I recommend you start with this one.He's in Vancouver in a few weeks to promote the loose sequel, River of Stars, and I am excited to finally meet this hero of mine!

  • Brad
    2019-02-16 13:53

    After The Last Light of the Sun (a novel I didn't like), I took a long, much needed break from the writing of Guy Gavriel Kay.I bought Ysabel, but it languishes on my bookshelf even now. I avoided Under Heaven until it became our fantasy book in the Sci-Fi & Fantasy Book club. Once it won the vote, I thought it might be time to return to Kay. I was a third into the book when my daughter, Scoutie, booknapped it and hid it under the love seat in the Sun Room. It resurfaced while we were vaccuuming, but by then my book club had outstripped me, and their comments suggested that the rest of the book was a let down. I let it sit for a few more days for fear I would be let down too, and I may have been if not for the pause. Reading the comments in the book discussions and flirting with a couple of my friends' reviews (I've not read any in detail yet) prepared me for disappointment, and because of that preparation the disappointment never came. I expected to be disappointed when it was revealed who sent assassins to kill Shen Tai and why, but I wasn't disappointed. I expected to be disappointed by the way each thread in the story touched others in the story, the way everything wove tightly together, but I wasn't. I expected to be disappointed by the resolutions of machinations and intrigues, but I wasn't. I found that by expecting to be disappointed I was released from disappointment, and I feel like that release gave me a way into the book that I wouldn't have had otherwise. I would have expected the more traditional Kay narrative of big armies and big wars and heroic battles playing out in our faces or the little battles playing out on the periphery, but I was freed of that expectation and was able to luxuriate in the simplicity of this tale. I think that's what Kay was trying to achieve with Under Heaven -- simplicity. It was in his prose. His prose was as adjective free as it has ever been, moreso, and there was an immediacy born of that simplicity that worked for me. And the poetry of Kitai was just as simple. Another reflection of Kay's purpose, I imagine. Moreover, that simplicity went further than just the words Kay chose. This simplicity defined the plot and action. We've come to expect complicated motivations from Kay, but here the motivations were the most mundane (disappointingly so for many); we've come to expect complicated emotions, emotional cross-purposes, but the emotions of Shen Tai and Wei Song and Le-Mei and Spring Rain and Sima Zian were only complex because of their simplicity. Many strands of this story appeared and hinted at great complexity then turned out to be tiny threads poking out of the tapestry merely needing to be trimmed. Simple in their messiness. But true. I came to love this book by the end for its simplicity. I think it was what Kay was going for, but I can understand the disappointment of others. As I said, I think I'd have suffered from the disappointment too if circumstances had been different. But they weren't different. My circumstances were what they were, and they led me to love this book. I am glad for that, and sad for those who only met disappointment.Finally, I thought the resolution, the ending at Kuala Nor was beautiful. Full circle. Honourable. And a sentiment I share with the men who put those ghosts to rest.

  • KatHooper
    2019-02-16 13:34

    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.

  • Bob Milne
    2019-02-06 21:43

    When I sit down to immerse myself in a book, the overall narrative style is important in drawing me into the author's world, but it's generally the sophistication of the overall plot and the strength of the characters that makes me want to stay there. As such, I don't usually wax poetic about the lyrical language of a story, the smoothly coursing flow of words, or the layered beauty of sentences and paragraphs.Well, this is one of those exceptionally notable exceptions.Under Heaven is, far and away, the finest work of fiction to come from the pen of Guy Gavriel Kay. It's a book that is perfect in almost every respect, so much so that I was sorry to turn that last page and lay it down, finished. It is definitely a long book, and one best enjoyed at a leisurely pace, but it could have continued on for another five or six hundred pages and I would not have voiced a word of complaint.In terms of plotting, it's an odd tale, and one that requires a unique sort of patience on behalf of the reader. The story at the forefront of the tale initially seems a little light, given the length of the book, but the story behind that is so deep, so heavily layered, that you don't quite realize precisely how much is going on until Kay shakes us out of our complacency and thrusts us into the final part of the book. Most of the book revolves around Shen Tai, second son to a celebrated general of the imperial army, who has spent the last two years burying bones and laying souls to rest around a mountain lake to honour his father's passing. In honour of his efforts, he finds himself granted a gift of impossible value - 250 Sardian horses - that makes him a major player in the political upheaval that threatens to bring about and end to a dynasty.Along his journey to the capital in answer to a summons from the Emperor, Tai is targeted by assassins, wooed by rebels, betrayed by his elder brother, loved by his protector, befriended by the generation's greatest poet, and drawn into a game of politics that he's never wanted to play. He is forced to rise above his station, to demand the respect accorded to his honours, and to play a shocking role in the transition of an empire. He is a remarkable character, an admirable young man to whom the reader can almost relate - if only he weren't so spectacularly worthy of the highest esteem.What makes the story so exquisite is the fact that the characters surrounding Tai are so well developed, they they're worthy of being main characters in their own right. In fact, his sister's magical journey is a story all on its own, escalating a young woman to royalty and shipping her off to a barbarous marriage, only to see her rescued by a man more wolf than man. Wei Song, Kanlin warrior and protector to Tai, is another strong woman, one who is largely responsible for seeing him to his destiny, while Wen Jian, Precious Consort of the Emperor, is a woman as dangerous as she is beautiful, and almost dizzying in her grasp of the game of politics.Like I said, it's a long story, told at a leisurely pace, and narrated almost exclusively in the present tense. It makes for an unusual read, almost too literate for the genre, but the reader's patience is more than amply rewarded. The subtlety of the telling is exceeded only by the intricacy of the schemes and plots, with a myriad of small events commingling to change the course of history. It's a read that leaves me almost reluctant to read River of Stars, since it's almost unimaginable that an author could manage to capture such lyrical magic twice in a row, but if anybody can do it, it's Kay.Originally reviewed at Beauty in Ruins

  • Hazal Çamur
    2019-01-29 21:34

    4.5/5Özet Yorum: Kaplan ve Ejderha'yı seven bu kitabı da sever derim ben.Detaylı Yorum:Guy Gavriel Kay, ilk kez 2012'de haberdar olduğum ve o zamandan beri Türkçede okumak için kıvrandığım bir zamandı. Kendisinin tarihi kurguları övgülere doymuyordu. Ben de meraktan ölüyordum.Onunla Gök Cennetin Altında ile tanıştım nihayet. Kendisi tam da beklediğim gibi çıktı. Kurgularında kullandığı ve onları çok hafif bir fantastik sosla süslediği yapısında, dönemin diline ve kültürüne sonuna kadar hakim bir yazar çıktı karşıma. Hal böyle olunca ve kitabın geçtiği dönem 8. yüzyılın Çin Hanedanlığı olunca, ağdalı, başlarda içine girmesi zor ama alışınca dönemi solutan bir dille karşılaştım.Kay, güzel araştırmaların sonucunu kitabın her yerinde hissettiriyor. Entrikalar, ihanetler, aşklar, politika, danışıklı dövüşler ve hepsinin ortasındaysa döneme ait, Çin'e has o aşırı saygı çerçevesinde, kast sistemine dayalı replikler var.Kay aynı zamanda şiire de fazlasıyla önem vermiş. Kitapta birçok şiir mevcut (yine döneme uygun olarak) ve bunlar Uzak Doğu esintilerini taşıdığı gibi, ne mutlu ki çevirileri de oldukça güzel.Türkleri ya da Moğolları temsil eden Bogüler ve onların şamanlarının meydana getirdiği doğaüstü olaylar, iktidar savaşı, bol bol politika ve saray mensuplarının ayak oyunları, birçok entrika ve bunların arasında hanedanlık dönemi Çin'in dolu dolu kültürü bu kitapta yer alıyor. Siyah giymiş Kanlin savaşçıları, onların yolu ve öğretileri, efsanevi, kızıl tüylü Sardia atları, gömülecek binlerce ceset, yası tutulan babalar, şamanlar, yörükler... Kurgu da kendi başına yazar tarafından başarıyla taşınıyor. Şöyle kurgumuz: Shen Tai, bir ortanca oğul. Babası General Shen Gao'nun başarılı kariyeri ve ölümü ardından, başdüşmanları Taguranlar ile onlar arasında kalmış bir savaş meydanına binlerce ölüyü gömmeye gidiyor. Böylece her gece hayaletlerin inleyişi altında 2 sene boyunca onları gömüyor. Bu sırada Taguran'daki kendi memleketlisi olan Kitan prensesi ona Kitan'ın yıllardır sahip olmak için yırtındığı ve Taguran'a karşı en büyük kıskançlığı olan, Cennet Atları lakaplı Sardia atlarından tam 250 tane hediye ediyor. Ancak bir şart var (ve bu şartın ortaya atılışı da kitapta olay örgüsü içinde işleniyor), Tai bu atları kendisi almalı. Ama bundan da öte, bu bir hediye mi yoksa bir ceza mı?Çeviride özellikle eski Türkçe kelimeler kullanılmış ve bunu takdir ettim. Bence 8. yüzyılda geçen bir kurgu için güzel bir tercih, stratejik bir hamle. Çevirmen ve editörün ellerine kollarına sağlık. Fakat kitapta neredeyse tüm "hiçbir" kelimesi "hiç bir" şeklinde yazılmasaydı keşke. Ya da "anlayışının" kelime "anlay ışının" olmasaydı. Bunun gibi birkaç kelime daha sıklıklı bölünerek yazılmış. Yazım hataları çok değil, ama ortalarda ek hataları mevcut. Çeviri ve editörlüğe büyük emek harcandığı belli. Sadece o şiirler bile yansıtıyor bunu. Ancak keşke son okuması da güzel olsaydı da bu kitap tertemiz çıksaydı karşımıza.Tarihe, hanedanlık dönemi Çin'e, Uzak Doğu'ya ve farklı kültürlere merakınız varsa bu kitaba bir şans verin. Guy Gavriel Kay, oradan buradan tırtıkladığı bilgiler yerine, yetkin araştırmalar ve bir de hayal gücüyle yazan bir yazar. Siz de bunu göreceksiniz.

  • D. Pow
    2019-01-28 21:50

    There was a time, I’d say from the early 90s until six or seven years ago, that Guy Gavriel Kay might have been my favorite writer. He was definitely my favorite fantasy writer- and to call him a fantasy writer is probably misleading, the fantasy elements in his books are often small and subtle-he is more a Historical Fiction writer than anything. He and I have grown apart, though. Mostly because my tastes have changed, I suspect, but also due to his last several books just not being up to his previous high standards. Under Heaven is a partial return to form, but only partial. A thrilling read, with some wonderful grace notes but also some odd choices in pacing and some set pieces that seemed more than just echoes of scenes from earlier Kay books. Most of Kay’s books take place in recognizable historical periods with slight twists of fantasy added, and a re-naming of places and reconfiguring of events so you are left with the flavor and atmosphere of that time and place but Kay is set free to let his imagination take over, unencumbered by strict facts. He has done takes on Provencal in the age of the Troubadors(my favorite- A Song for Arbonne, Medieval Spain, England under siege by Vikings, Byzantium at its apex and with Under Heaven he presents us with a subtly, artfully altered Tang Era China. Good Reader Kelly has a wonderful review of Under Heaven(it’s also a wonderful thread where many smart and worthy readers discuss the relative merits of Kay’s books- here is the link: One thing she mentions in the review(and I’m paraphrasing like hell here, I haven’t read it in awhile) is that we are much more likely to love a work of Historical Fiction if the time and place call to us, resonate with us, and that is absolutely true. My all-time favorite Kay books are set in the places I have the most affinity for, places that have charged my imagination. There was a time that a Tang Era China reworked by Kay would have left me indifferent. The last few years however I have been absolutely devouring Tang Era poetry and trying to also bone up on the history to the extent my addled brain can. Two of the poets from that era, Tu Fu and Li Po have become all-time favorites of mine, I read from them nearly every week. Imagine my joy when Kay not only referenced these poets but made Li Po a major character, the ‘banished immortal’ himself striding across the stage, albeit re-imagined as sword master, ready to kick ass when he isn’t reciting poetry or chasing ladies. How cool is that? The main arc of the story in Under Heaven follows Shen Tai, whose father, a prominent general, has recently died. As a grieving rite Shen Tai has spent the last year burying the dead at the site of a major battle. The ghosts that haunt this place are depicted in chilling, uncanny fashion. Kay has always been good at capturing just how scary and unnerving the unknown(death, the gods, women(heh)) are how much mojo a good man needs to stand up straight in the face of the numinous. As a result of his bravery Shen Tai is given a gift that beggars description and is made a player and a target in a kingdom hurtling towards civil war.In Shen, Kay has created a subtle, likeable protagonist. The secondary characters are all great. There are wonderful set pieces of action that are as cool as anything in ‘Crouching Dragon, Hidden Tiger’ or ‘House of Flying Daggers’. There is courtly intrigue and long, literate speeches that show Kay’s constant stance as defender of culture and beauty and the fine things in this life. There is a wonderful, eerie evocation of shamanistic practices that counter this too. The Women are here too. Kay is better at writing women of power better than most male fantasy writers I can think of, even if in this book there power is often hidden behind the veil of courtesan or whore- you still know that they are the equal and often the better of the men in their lives. He is also a constant celebrator of the larger feminine principle, of the great SHE at the heart of the world. Over and over in Kay’s works there is the sense of huge cosmic encounters with the archetypical feminine, of the GODDESS herself, when some male interacts with the women in his life. A rite, a dangerous mystery, a crossing of the threshold into something deeper and more beautiful. And he is a romantic too. While he writes about the joining of the sexes with maturity and a discerning eye, he also tends towards a poetic lushness in the language that can sound a bit like a bodice-ripper.Quibbles: The ending is rushed rushed rushed. He shoehorns years of action into twenty pages. While it’s all good I would’ve preferred more time with these characters, another book even. Most of the fates of the characters seemed cool and fair including one joining I had hoped for hundreds of pages earlier. There also scenes and arrangements of characters that too strongly recall Kay’s earlier works. On the one hand it’s mostly always good, on the other you get a little concerned he’s repeating his own chord patterns. He is still a master though, even though this is not his best, and there are more than enough moments of sheer delight to makeUnder Heaven worth the read.Note: Note the cover on my edition. Cool terra cotta horses. Note the cover on Good Reader Kelly’s edition. Goofy looking Asian warrior’s from a bad episode of Naruto or a Chinese Soap Opera, cheesier than a block of Velveeta. Is a bad cover worth a loss of a star? I think so.

  • agata
    2019-01-25 15:33

    In short: Kay promises a lot, but in the end he falls short to deliver.A book always comes with expectations. General ones you have towards all books and specific ones for a particular one.I read "Under heaven" with the "SciFi and Fantasy Book Club". I had not read anything by Guy Gavriel Kay before and didn't know what to expect. I was just curious and decided to give the Kindle sample a try.I was imediately hooked. Poetic prose, slow and deliberate development of story and character, a familiar and yet exotic setting with hints of more to come. First signs of some supernatural forces, an assassin, an intrigue, political machinations, some fascinating characters, great suspense building. All that interwoven like an emerging tapestry.I wanted to see this cloth woven, wanted to see the image developed. I bought the book. The expectations now were high.And then something strange happened. All the strands that got me started, disappeared - one by one. All the promises made about mysterious intrigues, powerhungry politicians, and troubled characters vanished. Vanished in lame resolutions, uninspired character building and a rising sense of loss. Like a river starting from a clear mountain spring meanders through the low lands just to seep away into sand.The threads of silk and velvet dissolved, replaced by mundane cotton and linnen. The tapestry became a rug.My reading became desperate. Desperate to find more in a book that had promised so much, and went on disappointing.There were some bright moments even in the later parts of the book. When there was room for the author’s prose to become enthralling: descriptions of scenery, some character's inner life evolving slowly, poetry, the beauty of a woman, a death scene like in a greek tragedy, the final farewell chapters.But in the end beautiful prose is not enough, if you start out promising more.I find it always hard to be disappointed by a book, so I'll give Kay a second chance with one of his other books (The Lions of al-Rassan maybe) recommended to me.

  • Megan Baxter
    2019-01-24 17:53

    Guy Gavriel Kay has created his own little niche - books that are part historical fiction, moved slightly to the left, and part fantasy. That is to say, he researches the hell out of a particular time and place, and then writes in a fictionalized version of that setting, frequently with some magical elements, and almost always with two moons.Note: The rest of this review has been withdrawn due to the changes in Goodreads policy and enforcement. You can read why I came to this decision here.In the meantime, you can read the entire review at Smorgasbook

  • Tracey
    2019-01-27 21:56

    The story begins with one Shen Tai, second son of a great general who has just, two years and a half ago (not quite), died. The mourning period is that long, two and half years, and requires complete withdrawal from society. And Tai, as part of his mourning, to honor his father, has come back to Kuala Nor, where his father won a great victory. That victory cost his people 40,000 Kitan men – and cost the enemy, the Tagurans, 60,000 men. None of these soldiers received burial, and an unburied body means a ghost – and Tai very very quickly found that, indeed, there are about 100,000 ghosts crying and screaming through the night. His self-appointed task is to bury these soldiers … or, at least as many as can be buried in two and a half years by one man. It’s mad – and, in a civilization that echoes 7th century Tang Dynasty China, steeped in honour.As he starts another day of digging, he is pondering where his life will take him now that the mourning period is ending – whether he will go back to what he was trying to make of himself when his father died, or … something else. And then, with the unrolling of a letter, the decision is gone from his hands. In recognition of his mad, honourable actions, the White Jade Princess Cheng-wan, a bride sent from Kitai to Tagur some twenty years ago, is – with permission – giving Tai a gift.“It is a large gift”, says Bytsan, the Taguran soldier who brings the scroll. He is, apparently, a master of understatement.He is also a man who rides one of the Dragon horses, Heavenly Horses, the magnificent, fiery steeds imported from Sardia because for all its wonders and resources Kitai does not have the grazing lands to breed great horses. They are rare, and wondrous, and coveted even by those who don’t ride.You gave a man one of these Sardian horses to reward him greatly. You gave him four or five of those glories to exalt him above his fellows, propel him towards rank – and earn him the jealousy, possibly mortal, of those who rode the smaller horses of the steppes.The Princess Chang-wan, a royal consort of Tagur now thorugh twenty years of peace, had just bestowed upon him, with permission, two hundred and fifty of the dragon horses.That was the number. Tai read it one more time.And that quickly Tai’s life is turned inside out. Starting right then, he needs to reintegrate himself into the world again, immediately, after having been almost completely isolated for his mourning period. Starting then, he needs to start thinking like a courtier, a politician, a strategist … or he will die.The book starts with a tight focus on Tai, and for most of the book it keeps returning to him, in a POV so tight it might almost as well be first-person. As Tai re-enters the world, occasionally the perspective splinters off – the second chapter starts in Bytsan’s head, and later we see through the eyes of several other characters. Interestingly, the female POV’s (P’s OV) are all in the present tense; often Kay uses that for scenes of deep mysticism. The closer he draws to the Ta-Ming Palace, the more glimpses of others’ thoughts we see, the wider grows the ring of personages, and the larger his deed grows: what started off as a really quite simple gesture to honor his father is magnified – he might easily have been killed by those who saw his coming there as arrogance – and now this … Poor Tai is an ordinary man, really, second son of a great man, intelligent – but not a genius in diplomacy or poetry or any of the other skills he will need. Just an ordinary man doing his damnedest to keep himself alive.We’re never given the motivation for the White Jade Princess to have done this to him; either she knew exactly what the gift would do to him, or she was like those politicians who burble on about healthcare reform when they’ve never had to worry about how to pay for a doctor’s visit, or cut unemployment benefits when they’ve never had to worry about how to buy groceries this weekend – - or, indeed, like Malcolm bloody Forbes pondering the mistake so many Americans make in not doing what they love for a living. It may have been a combination – “some is good, more is better” and “stir the pot”… I would have enjoyed one (present-tense) passage illuminating what was in her mind, but as it is the mystery works just fine. Kay is not one to answer all your questions – that’s part of the reality of his worlds.Happily for Tai, he has good friends, and finds others along the way – and he has the intelligence to know that he does not have the skills to navigate the treacherous waters of the court. So he goes his own way, and does the unexpected – and it’s a joy to watch. I loved this character. He’s not my favorite – Tigana has most of those – but Tai is a wonderful companion. He has flaws, he’s aware of his flaws, and he does not react to much of anything in just the way the reader or the people around him expect. Can’t ask for much more than that. He reacted to political intrigue and webs being spun around him and plots surfacing and submerging again (and how’s that for a mixed metaphorical bag) much the way I think I, or any reasonably intelligent but unversed person, would react if thrown into the middle of that mess – step by step, and thinking fast, terrified and exhilarated and praying a lot…I loved Tai. I loved Spring Rain and wanted her to be triumphant in the end. I loved Wei Song, and how she skirted (heh) the stereotypes. I loved Sima Zian even more. I hated Tai’s brother – and then not so much – and only Kay can leave you hating a character but utterly respecting him at the same time. I think the only thing I could have wished for would have been … more of the horses.Only Kay can take an action in a character’s past (here, what happened with Meshag – the ending of which I have to say I thought was a horrible mistake) and spin its repercussions through the action of the current story like this. Only Kay can withhold the information, and withhold it a little more, and then take you right out of the current story into the past in such a way that not only is it not a jarring interruption to the current narrative, it’s the satisfaction of a need to know, and so far beyond info-dump that everyone who aspires to write should study it.Only Kay can take a world as alien to modern America as Tang Dynasty China, and make it so comprehensible and fascinating and, still, so mysterious and complex …Only Kay (and a very few others) can flood a narrative with art and light like this.Only Kay (and a very few others) – can set up a situation which is so intensely painful, and so very inevitable, but still so unpredictable as the scene in the inn yard. Only Kay can show so clearly, so vividly, so, sometimes, painfully how the course of a life, a love, a kingdom can turn on the decision of a moment, on a word spoken (or not) or heeded (or not). Only Kay can spin out from an intense focus on a single character to a global view and back again with such skill and clarity. Only Kay can write something so simultaneously gritty and lyric, so painful and euphoric. Only Kay writes like this – which is terrible, because such extraordinariness takes time … but which is good, because if every book was this intense reading would be an exhausting process.Under Heaven was somehow not as wrenching as others – I’ve said before how devastating Tigana was the first time I read it; it’s in anticipation of something like that that I will not read Kay anywhere but at home in private. It goes toward what I saw on SYTYCD, with the dancers shaken and somber after emotional performances, and how I’ve felt coming out of some films (Schindler’s List, for a prime example): there are some works of art that leave one unready to return to normal life and ordinary company for a while. They need space before, to prepare, if possible, and most certainly space after. (I’ve often thought that there should be some kind of airlock in theatres where someone could go to recover a bit before going out into the world – especially into daylight, which just seems wrong sometimes.) I didn’t cry at the inn yard, which surprised me a little even as I was reading. I did cry at the end, which was as inevitable as the events of the inn yard. It’s not my favorite of Kay’s books – I really do need to read Tigana again – and Arbonne - and Al-Rassan – and the Sarantine Mosaic… but Kay’s writing on his worst day is so far superior to anyone else’s that “favorite” is almost irrelevant. It’s a joy and an honor just to open his books.

  • Manju
    2019-02-04 20:27

    I wanted to read this for a long time. Story starts with Shen Tai being gifted 250 Sardian horses (a very valuable breed) by a Tagur (a rival kingdom) princess for his work of burying the dead of a great battle between the kingdoms of Kitai and Tagur. Shen Tai had been doing this in memory of his father. On his last day (after two years of burying the dead), Shen Tai faces an assassination attempt by a Kanlin Warrior (trained and most feared warriors). Somehow Shen Tai survives this attempt. Bytsan sri Nespo, a soldier of the rival army who bring him the news of 250 sardian horses gift, makes a plan that only Shen Tai can retrieve the horses from the Tagur border. Shen Tai begins his journey to his Kitai emperor to let him know about the gift. After reaching the capital Shen Tai finds himself right in the middle of a power struggle, a battle of jealousy between two most powerful man in the empire and the impending danger of a rebellion.“The world could bring you poison in a jewelled cup, or surprising gifts. Sometimes you didn't know which of them it was.”More than fantasy it is a historical fiction. GGK is a master of storytelling. The way he explains events is simply beautiful. He takes his time telling about the background of the events and what led to these events. His graceful writing and lyrical prose is very engrossing till the very end. GGK’s stories are so different from other fantasies that I’ve read. Characters full of bravery, love, deception and compassion. His characters are very simple and the words he choose to describe them are exceptional. Other strong point of this story is its world building. GGK definitely does a thorough research about the world he is about to create in his books. It is not Tigana but still it is a very gorgeous work.

  • Mike
    2019-02-04 19:40

    This was everything I would expect from a Guy Gavriel Kay novel - an interesting period of history that I was largely unfamiliar with (Tang Dynasty China, specifically), a bunch of profoundly human characters in all their flawed glory, and enough emotion to more than justify the kickbacks I'm sure GGK gets from Kleenex.This book had a great deal of similarities to the Sarantine Mosaic, which is not a bad thing. History is an incredibly rich field of source material, and I dearly wish more authors would venture beyond the popular understandings of medieval northern Europe.The only real flaw I can point to in this book is that it wasn't as good as The Lions of al-Rassan. As far as critiques go, that is a pretty good one. And "not GGK's best" is still solidly in the 80th percentile, so it's an easy 5 stars.

  • Giovanna
    2019-02-01 15:41

    4.5“Branching paths. The turning of days and seasons and years. Life offered you love sometimes, sorrow often. If you were very fortunate, true friendship. Sometimes war came.You did what you could to shape your own peace, before you crossed over to the night and left the world behind, as all men did, to be forgotten or remembered, as time or love allowed.”To quote my own status update: Guy Gavriel Kay is a master storyteller. End of the story. Because that's how it is, truly. I had been impressed by Tigana too, but I think that Under Heaven really sealed the deal for me. Under Heaven is complex, but in a beautiful, humbling way. It's really difficult to explain, but I'll try this way: have you ever seen one of those artists, or athletes, that are able to deliver incredible performances while making it look effortless? You know what they're doing is incredible, but you're even more in awe if they make it seem...easy as breathing. Under Heaven is like that, in my opinion: it's not flashy/spectacular, but it is incredibly impressive in a quiet way. First, I should probably mention that this isn't a classic fantasy. It's not just because there's no magic system, but because it isn't set in another world. Imo this reads more like an alternate history: a what if of some kind, let's say. Under Heaven follows Shen Tai's story. The son of a beloved and honoured general, Shen Tai has spent the two years of mourning for his father's death beyond the borders of the empire, burying the dead, laying to rest the souls of the soldiers killed in a battle. Because of this he is awarded with a poisonous gift: 250 Sardian horses, given to him by the Tagurans. Such a gift might even get him killed before he reaches the court. “The world could bring you poison in a jewelled cup, or surprising gifts. Sometimes you didn't know which of them it was.”Kay's perspective is extremely interesting, because the main character isn't a powerful man. The author decided to focus on the impact that one man, without titles or power, could have on history. Shen Tai has no position inside the court, nor he his actions may grant him one; actually, for him, receiving those horses is more of a nuisance than a gift, for it might get him killed. We are just following his journey home and how is single storyline interwines with others. He's but a single thread in a tapestry. The plot is slow, but it didn't bother me. On the contrary, I savoured it. Because the author is adding pieces to the puzzle as he goes, and more characters are added to mix and their threads interweave. Mind me, there are no knots in the tapestry and the final picture is perfect. As much as I liked Shen Tai himself, the book wouldn't be as beautiful as it is without the secondary characters. They are relevant, complex, well developed. They're necessary, which is not something that you see often. It didn't hurt that Kay's female characters are amazing. They're not demure not modest, in spite of the time period, they're powerful, strong, clever. They can't have the kind of power men have, but they have power over men, because they know how to wield their qualities as a weapon. The four female characters are all strong, in a different way. “Truth" when examining events and records of the past was always precarious, uncertain. No man could say for certain how the river of time would have flowed, cresting or receding, bringing floods or gently watering fields, had a single event, or even many, unfolded differently.It is in the nature of existence under heaven, the dissenting scholars wrote, that we cannot know these things with clarity. We cannot live twice, or watch as moments of the past unfurl, like a courtesan's silk fan. The river flows, the dancers finish their dance. If the music starts again it is starting anew, not repeating itself.”Overall, Under Heaven is marvelous. It has its faults, but I so thoroughly loved it that I really can't give it any less than 5 stars. And thank Lys, for such a wonderful, perfect gift. *hugs the book*

  • Alice
    2019-01-26 17:34

    I'll preface my review by saying that I'm a long-time fan of Kay; he's a fixture on my list of favourite authors. That being said - I found Under Heaven quite disappointing. From the [lack of] plot to the [extremely under-developed] characters, the whole novel felt very wanting. Based on Kay's better works (e.g. Tigana, A Song for Arbonne, etc. ) we know that he could have easily made this into a real classic, with characters and lines and imagery that stay with you years after you've read them. In Under Heaven, you're given a very underwhelming plot - the premise (the gift of the 250 Sardian horses) is promising, but one that never delivers. We never find out why the White Jade Princess decided on this outrageous gift! I kept waiting to come to the part where we're taken to that palace where she lives, to her mind, to her thoughts about it etc. Kay's great in his works about hopping around from locale to locale, from one end of the continent to the other - he took us to Sardia, he took us beyond the Wall, why did he leave out one crucial, integral set of characters? This baffles me. Also - the reason for an assassin being sent to kill him ... I can't be alone, surely, in thinking that the reason was weak, lame, and a total anti-climactic cop-out? When they revealed the reason, I was literally like, "Really? Really? No... just, no."The fact that the horses actually play such a small part in the story itself, also bothered me a little. Shen Tai, his sister, his brothers, his lovers - all had interesting bases, all were fairly two dimensional. I would have loved to have gotten to know them all better, if he'd let us. I kept suspecting that this book was written by someone else, only based on Kay's ideas. Having read his better works, honestly this felt like a half-hearted attempt at a book, to satisfy a contract or to get his publishers off his back or something. :(

  • Vedran Karlić
    2019-02-02 17:28

    Uh. Osjećam se vrlo teško što knjizi svog omiljenog autora dajem trojku. Razmišljao sam joj dati za jednu zvjezdicu više, no odlučio sam se ostati pri ovoj ocijeni.Problem je u njegovim prijašnjim djelima koji su toliko bolja od ovoga. Ima tu dobrih stvari, dva trenutka u knjizi su mi bili baš oni Kay momenti od kojih krenu trnci po cijelom tijelu. No to su samo dva trenutka, ostatak je bio često dosadnjikav. Čak mi i stil pisanja nije sjeo kao u prijašnjim knjigama (možda je do prijevoda), premda, kada su opisi u pitanju Kay zna oživjeti lokaciju. Problem je bio i u likovima, bili su mi nekako plitki za njegov standard, s glavnim likom sam se povezao tek nekoliko stranica prije kraja, dok sam prema negativcima imao simpatije, premda ih ne bih trebao imati.Nema veze, ne žalim što sam čitao.

  • Lee
    2019-01-23 16:48

    Story: 4/51: Being Vague, rambling plot with no little believable storyline5: Ripping yarn, clever, thought provokingAs a Gavriel Kay fan, I was excited to be reading some of his work again, as it has been a while. This story is different from most of this work, (maybe somewhat in the vein of Lions of al-Rassan) with a very strong storyline based around political intrigue of an empire reminiscent of a japanese or chinese emperor. There are very few action scenes in this story with the main plot being based around a returning soldier with a gift of amazing value (lots of prized horses). This gift makes our soldier the most wanted man in the kingdom, as different factions position themselves to be part of the gift. This gift means a death sentence unless the main man can find a way to make himself as important to the empire as the horses themselves. I am not a big fan of political intrigue, backstabbing and posturing in the court, but have to admit, there was a lot to like here. What made this whole story interesting was the honour system in this type of culture, where bowing not deep enough or long enough, can have you executed. Where a slight to a family can result in your required suicide. The political banter of the protagonist and his opponents is brilliantly written and you can feel the frustration of the characters as decorum and honour dictates their speech and next moves. This verbal sword play was every bit as exciting as the actual moments of physical action.There is very little magic or fantasy in this story, there is a brief moment where ghosts join in the story in the first few chapters, a guy who speaks with wolves, but after that there is no reference to anything out of the ordinary. Very similar to GGK’s Lions of al-Rassan’s lack of magic. Characters: 3 /51: Unrealistic/unbelievable. Feel nothing for these characters5: Fully engaged with the characters, believable. Researched.I am on the fence with the characters. Usually GGK builds very strong emotional characters, but with this book I really struggled to engage with them. It could be because of the reserved persona that each character has due to the setting, I don’t know. But already each character is beginning to fade from memory and I can hardly recall their names. So I am rating the characters lower than I would have expected and lower than the books finally score. Which for me is unusual as generally I need to believe and have feelings for the characters to rate the story four stars. Read Weight: Heavy Fluffy, Light, Solid, Heavy, StruggleThe story is very simple, yet because of the dialogue required to pull off the intrigue and depth of the culture, it does make the book a heavy read. Engagement: 4 /51: Not fussed about finishing5: Could stay up all nightI found that as the story developed I found it hard to put down. An indication of that was on a recent flight. I took the book to read when the instructions to turn off my kindle for take off meant I had 15 minutes down time for reading. This is where I usually read a ‘real’ book, until I can get the kindle back out. In the last third of the book, i stuck with this story for the flight.Recommend: 4/51: Would advise you to read something else5: Go read it now. It is THAT goodOverall i enjoyed the story very much, I was pleasantly surprised as the initial story had me wondering if this would be something I could get into. As an author I like Gavriel Kays work and he hasn’t let me down with this book.If you enjoyed the Feist, Wurts Empire trilogy I can see you enjoying this very much. For those who enjoy the asian emperor/dynasty stories this would also suit your needs.

  • Mike
    2019-02-12 19:41

    So how much trouble could 250 horses be? I mean, besides feeding them and keeping them in shape it can't be that bad, right? Well, if these horses happen to be highly prized by very powerful people (including an Emperor) AND you are stuck in the middle of nowhere when you receive the gift you can find yourself in a bit of a pickle. This is the situation Shen Tai finds himself in when he is gifted (though gifted might not be how he sees it) 250 magnificent Sardian horses, horses whose qualities far surpass all others available to the great Kitai Empire (Kay's name for what we call the Tang Dynasty of China), of which Shen Tai is a citizen of.Thrust into this precarious situation Shen Tai strikes out to discharge this gift before it gets him killed. Having been away from the Kitai Empire for two years he is unprepared for the volatile political environment his appearance and gift unsettles. There are may layers of court intrigue, hidden agendas, and good old fashion personal grudges.I think the best way to describe Under Heaven was achingly beautiful. The characters in this book were vibrant and nuanced, the setting was beautifully crafted and multi-layered, the story was both grand and personal, and the writing was elegant and well balanced, never saying more or less than was needed. There is a refined beauty in the economy of language and the imagery Kay employed to tell this story. It sweeps you up and places you firmly among the characters and events of the book.Kay does a marvelous job balancing three story telling devices: the perspective of the main characters, the perspective of the tangential characters who we only see briefly but fall into the orbit of the main characters, and the greater picture of the events going on beyond the characters' awareness. Each passage, even those from tangential characters we will never see or hear from again, enriches and deepens the setting and atmosphere. Some of my favorite sections were from these characters' perspective, letting us see the main characters from a more impartial position, providing another view on the events going on, and just being delightful to read on their own merits.I was initially put off by some of the third person passages that cropped up near the end of the book that provide a sweeping view of some events occurring outside the main character's view but it call came together at the end to provide what I think was the message of the book: decisions matter. Large, small, well planned, spur of the moment, all of them in some way contribute to the human experience. A simple, off the cuff decision could have extensive repercussions in a year's time. Empires could fall, famine could spread, love could be unrequited, the path not taken could have been ruin or paradise. All we can do is make the best decisions we have available to us and move on with our lives knowing that some decisions we can control and other decisions control us. Be it the strict imperial protocol of a fragile empire or what inn we choose to stop at. Life and love may not turn out as we expect or play out like a fairy tale but we must make the best of it and continue to live life as we best see fit. To quote the ever entertaining movie Gladiator: What we do in life echos an eternity.Under Heaven's story about intersecting lives, decisions, and consequences poignantly conveys this message with subtlety and beauty rarely found in literature.(For those of you who want to read about the actual historical circumstances that inspired this book, check out the wikipedia article on the An Lushan Rebellion)

  • Kayıp Rıhtım
    2019-02-09 20:49

    Gök Cennetin Altında, tarihi kurguları sevenler için oldukça güzel bir eser. Dahası, Kaplan ve Ejderha’yı sevenlerle Uzak Doğu kültürüne ilgi duyanlar için de bir o kadar değerli. Guy Gavriel Kay, 8. yüzyılın Çin’ini alarak bir Uzak Doğu destanı yaratmış. Bunu yaparken de tarihi kaynakları bol bol kullanmış. Sonra onu gerçek kültürel ögelerle detaylıca donatmış, bir tutam fantastik eklemiş. Ortaya da Gök Cennetin Altında çıkmış. Ama bununla da kalmamış. Çünkü Kay’in kurgusu Gök Cennetin Altında’nın geçtiği dönem kadar, o dönemde yaşanmış gerçek olay ve kişilerin de adını değiştirmek suretiyle neredeyse bir ayna niteliği taşıyor. Gerçekten inanılmaz…İçinde entrika kadar zaman zaman aşk, Uzak Doğu filmlerine yaraşır akıcılıkta dövüş sahneleri, şarkılar, şiirler (hele ki repliklerde alıntı yapılan şiirlerle dönemin ruhuna dokunmalar) ve hanedanlık dönemi Çin’i ile bezenmiş bir kitap bu. Dahası, içindeki Moğol veya Türkler’den esinlenilmiş Bogü kavimleriyle de tanıdık esintiler sunuyor.Moğol veya Türk kavimleri esinlenmeli Bogüler kurguda yer alınca şamanizm de kaçınılmazdı elbette. Kitabın az sayıdaki fantastik sahneleri aslında tam da bu çerçevede toplanmış hâlde. Kay’in şamanları ve büyülerini tasvir ediş biçimi oldukça inandırıcı ve zaman zaman insanı ürperten cinsten. Dahası, kitabın o az sayıdaki fantastik etmenleri de şamanlar aracılığıyla bizlerle buluşuyor.Şamanlar, görmeyi beklemediğim ama gördüğüme mutlu olduğum ögelerdi. Kağanların yanındaki yerleri, kavimler arası iktidar savaşlarındaki konumları ve kimi ustalarının münzevi yaşamlarıyla birlikte Uzak Doğu kültürüyle bezeli bu kurguda Türkiye okurlarına çok tanıdık bir yönünü de gösteriyor.Kitapta iktidar savaşı, bol bol politika ve saray mensuplarının ayak oyunları, birçok entrika ve bunların arasında hanedanlık dönemi Çin’inin dolu dolu kültürü yer alıyor. Kadın erkek ayrımı olmadan seçilen, sözünün eri ve eşsiz dövüş yetenekleriyle siyah giymiş Kanlin savaşçıları; onların yolu ve öğretileri; efsanevi kızıl tüylü Sardia atları; gömülecek binlerce ceset; yası tutulan babalar ile şamanlar ve yörükler de öyle. Özellikle replikler ve döneme ait kültürel imgeler kitapta öne çıkıyor. Yazarımız dönemi okura fazlasıyla solutuyor.Kitabın anlatımındaki akış başta ağır bir yön taşıyor. Yazar bize 660 sayfa kadarlık bir kurgu sunmuş ve bu kurguda birçok detay var. Kay bize dönemin atmosferini solutmak için hem başlarda ağır bir tempo seçmiş, hem de onu detaylarla bezemiş. Bence bazı kısımlar olmasa da olurdu; ama tarihi kurguda detaylandırma da oldukça önemli bir yer taşıyor.Kay’in dönemin ruhunu bize soluturken kendisinin de bir o kadar tadıyor oluşu takdire değer. Dönemin kültürlülük ve statü göstergesi olan şiiri bizzat kurgusunda kullanışıyla kitap lirik bir yön de kazanıyor. Karakterlerin yazdığı şiirler, doğaçlama şiirlerle atışmaları, şarkılar ve nicesi Kay’in ahenkli diliyle bizlerle buluşuyor. Ne mutlu ki bu kısımların Türkçeleştirilmesi de bir o kadar güzel!Guy Gavriel Kay, kesinlikle beklediğime değen bir yazar olarak çıktı karşıma. Dilerim biz onun daha nice eserini dilimizde okuma şansına erişiriz.- Hazal ÇAMURİncelemenin tamamı için:

  • KostasAt
    2019-02-10 13:32

    8.5/10In Under Heaven Kay takes us to the 8th century China, evoking the Tang Dynasty and the An Lushan rebellion, in a world very different from the ones he has showed in his previous books; and into a story full with wonderful characters, beautiful poetry and lots of intrigues and some even greater action scenes.The story follows Tai, the second son of the great General Shen Gao, who for two years now mourns the loss of his father (as it is required for their homage) and lives in a place where great wars have taken place between the Kitai and their enemies, the Tagurans, buring the dead as he tries to give to their spirits their final rest; before the night comes again and they start screaming, wailing and scaring anyone who comes near.But when on day the White Jade Princess, the wife of the Taguran Emperor, gives him a gift, a great gift that hasn’t be given to anyone before, to honor him for the work he has done those two years beside the dead he will find himself against enemies that will try to kill him and take it from him; and between a game of intrigues and machinations that could bring the destruction of the Kitan Emperor and also for the whole Empire.The book, I must say, reminded me a lot of times scenes and places, moments and characters, that Kay has used many times before in his books such as:The Sarantine Mosaic, A Song for Arbonne and, perhaps, a litlte from Tigana too. Although it may feel a bit too familiar - especially for those have read him before - it has its own unique moments as Kay manages to create yet again characters that cannot but amaze you and, combining with his great writting style, he bring us to another wonderful story.All in all, it is a book that fans of Guy Gavriel Kay's would not want to miss, as it brings all those things that loved and manages to take somewher far away, in a world that has much more to show us.

  • Jon
    2019-02-01 15:35

    5 stars

  • Brooke
    2019-01-27 15:44

    First a moment of sadness - even after making this one stretch out for a week, I'm yet again facing another likely 3 years until my #1 favorite author releases a new book. I do hate that.To be truthful, after the wait for Under Heaven, the result was a little anti-climatic. As I was reading it, I kept thinking that it was The Sarantine Mosaic Lite. In both books, a commoner gets embroiled in the politics of an emperor's court during a tumultuous time in the empire's history. In both books, the main character exists almost only for the purpose of letting the reader view through his eyes all of the women who are influencing events in a male-dominated society. The Sarantine Mosaic just does it with a little more sharpness, and with richer characters. Under Heaven excelled when it came to weaving Kay's themes through the story, but the themes sort of overwhelmed the characters and pushed them to the background.I think this was the first Kay book where I didn't feel a fierce connection to multiple characters. They just lacked a richness and seemed more like 2D figures that existed to move the story forward. Had I never read a Kay book before, I probably wouldn't have even noticed, but creating fully realized characters is something he normally excels at above and beyond what most other authors are capable of. There were quite a few people that I wanted to know more about, but Kay just didn't dig quite deep enough for that.The themes, however, really came alive. Kay's obviously still looking at many of the same ones from Ysabel relating to history and our places in it. There were many passages noting the differences between the history recorded by poets and the history recorded by scholars, and how their different focuses and distance from the events can affect what we know about what transpired in the past.One theme that rolled over from Ysabel was the idea that every story has many many threads running through it, and each person that touches one story will have a full story of their own. Kay notes towards the end of Under Heaven, "Tales have many strands, smaller, larger. An incidental figure in one story is living through the drama and passion of his or her own life and death." He illustrated this throughout Under Heaven by switching to the POV of various minor characters for a few pages, only to never speak through them again. It hammered home the idea that there are all these lives going on outside the main story.Like Ysabel, Under Heaven says a lot of smart things about history, things that I'm not quite smart enough to articulate. My only complaint was that the epilogue sort of made these themes a little TOO explicit. I'm at least smart enough to pick up on all of this as I was reading, and I didn't need the equivalent of the ending of Pan's Labyrinth, which laid out the moral of the story that had been communicated quite well in a subtle fashion up until that point. Kay's writing, as usual, was just wonderful. Kay's writing has become so familiar to me by now that when I came across the line, "He didn't dismiss her. He remembered, instead, how she'd fought at sunrise, in a garden in Chenyao," I thought to myself, "That is SO Kay!"At the moment, I'm thinking I'm more likely to re-read The Last Light of the Sun, my least favorite Kay book, before this one, but we'll see how this one sit in my head after time has gone by.

  • Sarah Anne
    2019-02-20 15:45

    This was a really wonderful book. I was told that it had a very slow and steady pace and I found that this worked really well for me. I'm not familiar with the dynasties of China and the character names were a bit more difficult for me. Additionally, I was using the audio. So the way that the characters were introduced one by one, leaving time to get to know them before another was introduced, really worked. The pace did pick up, as did the complexity. I was with it right up to the moment that politics became important. Politics make my brain short out :) So yes, I got confused in there, but I really loved the story. I loved that the wrap-up wasn't entirely what I expected but was still appropriate and still happy.To all my buddies who haven't read this - get on it already!

  • Ammar
    2019-02-06 21:44

    Thanks to Penguin Random House Canada for sending me a paperback copy of this novel.This is the second book that i have read by Guy Gavriel Kay. it is an interesting epic. A fantasy blended with history, a far cry from a medieval novel I once read which was A Song for Arbonne. There is everything that a fantasy set in the East needs, you have emperors, assassins, concubines, battles and strategy and underneath it all there are heroes and lovers. It is a long read, yet an exciting one. There is redemption and revenge.

  • Beth Cato
    2019-01-30 14:56

    I found the start to be slow and the narrative bogged down by excessive details at time, but overall the book kept me engaged enough to read through almost 600 pages in a few days. That is largely due to the compelling nature of the protagonist, Shen Tai. After his father, a celebrated general, dies, Shen decides to go a different path than most during his required mourning period. He ventures to a distant, isolated area where his father once fought a battle where thousands upon thousands died--and their ghosts linger there yet, howling each night over their unsettled, bleached bones. Shen spends two years burying the long-dead and setting ghosts at rest, and for that he's granted a surprising reward: 250 practically-divine horses. That sounds like a fine deal, except this comes from an enemy country, and his own country is on the verge of civil war. This gift could easily be a death sentence as people kill him for the horses or other, more personal reasons. But Shen is brilliant, and he surrounded by likewise smart, vivid characters.There were some odd points in the book. The narrator sometimes takes on the point of view of a distant historian, which felt weird. There are many good, well-rounded women in the book, but they never get a chance to truly shine. Shen's sister goes through some major travails, but she mostly follows orders instead of acting on her own agency, and in the end her plot line peters off to nothing. The plot thread of Shen's true love is likewise important through much of the book, to also peter off into an info dump along the lines of "and this is what happened for the rest of her life." Really? Shen's story is strong enough to save the book, even with the other annoyances. I was really loving the book through the middle, but those awkward resolutions at the end dampened my enthusiasm.

  • Jocelyn
    2019-02-20 14:30

    Under Heaven has been long overdue for me, to the point when I was practically driven crazy by trying to read anything else. That's how high my anticipation was.This is beyond what I'm used to from historical China: rather than the chaotic periods of history when the land is split into multiple warring kingdoms, Kay's story is placed at the height of unified Chinese power during the Tang dynasty. Legitimacy is virtually unquestioned, all the people of the empire are brought under one ruler, and the people who aren't can be safely pigeonholed as barbarians. Art and culture are valued on the same, if not higher than, level as military prowess. With the onslaught of the An Lushan Rebellion, the overall narrative is one of a single kingdom's survival through temporary, albeit far-reaching tumult rather than a continuous struggle to bring the kingdom together.Kay's research is reportedly impeccable, but I figured I'd be the judge of that. My reactions:1. Wondered at the absence of style names. The assumption seems to be that people were super formal back then, and Kay has people addressing Shen Tai as “son of [insert father name]” which felt weirdly European to me, instead of what the Chinese did use, which was either style names or the titles of whatever civic/military posts they held.2. Speaking of the last bit, there seems to be very vague distinctions as to the different levels of power people wielded. The conflict between the prime minister and supreme general is based a lot more on petty squabbling than the unique advantages and disadvantages of their respective positions (civil vs. military, emperor’s favor, etc.).3. The incorporation of poetry is stellar, and adds a strong atmospheric edge of authenticity as most of them are taken from actual Tang poetry. I had a lot of fun encountering the ones I recognized, and learning the ones I didn’t. Some of the most beautiful and evocative passages are in the sections concerned with poetry, as Shen Tai and the Banished Immortal find solidarity together even as they get drunk.4. I am very, very skeptical of the idea that several concubines and wives living under a single roof lived quite so harmoniously. Kay gets away with this by making the secondary women he doesn’t care about into completely blank slates, most without a single appearance or even a name. Which ignores the fact that, in an unequal power structure where multiple female lives are at a single male’s whim, there is an inevitable loss of status, wealth, and happiness for the women who don’t win favor. I don’t see what excuse a modern author has to be allowed to play “neutral” with historically institutionalized sexism.5. Kay’s admiration of the glittering physical splendor of Tang culture occasionally spills into fetish. I chuckled when he mentioned the “waterfall” hairstyle historically popularized by Yang Guifei, introduced like a cute piece of trivia he wasn’t quite done squeeing over yet. Hey man, geeking out over details is my job, not yours. But in that respect, I’ve got nothing to complain about with regards to accuracy. I only feel that it would have been more immersive not to have Kay repeatedly point out the bits that are supposed to surprise us, as they would have done so naturally.6. This has less to do with research than adding standard fantasy tropes where it feels completely incongruous. Namely, the mysterious assassin society.7. Use of “fuck” as an expletive. *eye twitch* Only happened two or three times, but still.8. Lastly, although I know this is super trivial, I would have loved a detailed historical note from Kay, because no matter which way I count the Chinese dynasties, Tang never comes up as “ninth,” always seventh or eighth, dammit! Also, whenever he refers to the First or Sixth or whatever dynasty…I’m just dying to know which specific dynasty he’s referring to, so my geeky self can search it up. Also exacerbated by aforementioned counting problem.Although many found the ending to be rushed, it was actually my favorite part: I like how the nature of a broad summary reinforces the cyclical continuum of history, and the way Kay wrote it reminded me a lot of Three Kingdoms. I think the main weakness of the book is the lack of depth of motivations. The farther you go up the political ladder, the shallower it gets. Emperor Taizu (historically Xuanzong) is an empty slate. Maybe it's just me, but I don't think you can really claim to have painted a complex epic portrait of a political structure or culture unless you deconstruct the guy at the top of the hierarchy. Of course, it may or may not just be that my favorite TV show does this and Kay does not. Nevertheless, for such a remarkable period of history--an empire at its peak destabilized by rebellion--Kay displays a distinct lack of willingness to question what makes these influential people tick, which was unfortunately what I happened to be the most curious about. To put it simply, what happened? How does a ruler get so disconnected that he doesn't foresee a major revolt that eventually gets big enough to threaten the very sanctity of the dynasty? What's his personality like? What role does that personality play in controlling the lives of millions of people?What Kay does give us is several very complacent, although poetically written observations on how people inevitably fall victim to the luxury of sensuous pleasure. I guess it's accurate, I just kept thinking about what a spectacular contrast in dramatic tension it would have made if the difference between reality and perception were thrown into sharper relief, and maybe dig into some guts of human condition while it was at it.Reservations aside, I'm still intent on reading River of Stars, just to see Kay's take on the Song Dynasty. I secretly wish he would do the Han though.