Renowned Canadian novelist Guy Gavriel Kay has published another instant classic with his newest historical fantasy, Under Heaven. The Huffington Post calls it, “A magnificent epic, flawlessly crafted, that draws the reader in like a whirlwind and doesn’t let go.” I would agree… but this is one whirlwind that takes a bit of time to get started.
In the Ninth Dynasty of Kitai (read: China), a young man named Tai has decided to estrange himself for two years to bury the dead of a terrible war – for both sides. In order to honor this deed, a princess from an influential province gives him the unthinkable gift of 250 Sardinian horses. This easily makes Tai one of the most important men in the empire… and also the most wanted. Under Heaven takes readers from the barren Bogu (Mongolian) steppe to the sumptuous court at the “centre of the world” to the austere warrior-monastery on Stone Drum Mountain. As with all of Kay’s novels, characters range from ‘greatness-thrust-upon-them’ protagonists, to surprisingly powerful women, to scrappy lower-class heroes, to villains with consciences.
Under Heaven is of same outstanding quality as the rest of Kay’s corpus, with one notable exception: it has a slow start. The book, at 550 pages, is not necessary overwritten, because all the content is relevant to the plot (a plot which becomes downright addictive as it goes on) – the beginning simply could have been a bit more interesting or action-packed.
Under Heaven, just one year old, has already received four international awards and has been nominated for three others. It is well worth reading, not only for its entertainment value, but for its edifying historical content and lyrical prose.
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