It’s been three years since fantasy author Guy Gavriel Kay published his last book, which was a change from his usual fantasy epics that involve a historical period with an alternate twist. In Under Heaven he returns to what readers known him best for, writing on the period of the Tang Dynasty in China of the 7th to 10th centuries. Of course, it is not exactly the history of the Tang Dynasty, but Kay’s own created world, with an invented map and invented names for towns and cities. The result is a magical, moving novel of almost six hundred pages that sweeps you back to this enchanting moment in history when there was fighting for land and wealth, but also beauty in art and poetry. Under Heaven is Guy Gavriel Kay at his best.
Guy Gavriel Kay is not looking to simply tell a history story of the Tang Dynasty, nor is it to be an alternate history, but an original story of art and love and culture. Shen Tai is the son of a renowned general who served the Emperor of Kitai. He has spent the last two years by the blue waters of Kuala Nor where twenty years ago a great battle was waged and forty thousand men were slain. Tai passes his days burying the dead from both armies and mourning in his way, for his father, General Shen Gao. But Tai is in for a surprise; his duty to his country has been recognized. The 17th daughter of the Emperor of Kitai, the White Jade Princess rewards him with 250 Sardian horses; a gift of priceless wealth. Yet while this reward elevates Tai to a high status of extreme wealth, it is also tempered with how he will be able to collect his reward, and those who will stop at nothing to get their hands on those horses.
Guy Gavriel Kay reveals his true ability as a gifted writer in Under Heaven, using a colorful, descriptive style as he reveals this medieval world of culture and art, as well as politics and intrigue. One learns through the eyes of Tai what it is to be a high-ranking noble in this world, how one should act at all times – as well as when in the presence of the emperor – and what it’s like to be constantly watched by a bodyguard as an assassin slinks nearby. Under Heaven will capture you from the very beginning and transport you back to this magical time, making you never want to return to your own world.
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Originally written on June 8 2010 ©Alex C. Telander.