four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
48-Sept-Oct-2010
user_rating: 
0

A-Under HeavenCanadian Guy Gavriel Kay is an internationally best-selling author of fantasy fiction, much of it historically based, including the three-part Fionavar Tapestry (1984–1986), The Last Light of the Sun (2004), and Ysabel (2007).

The Story: Shen Tai honors his slain father, a great military general of the Kitai Empire, by burying the bones of fallen soldiers on the grounds of an old battle site. His two-year act of filial devotion brings him to the attention of the White Jade Princess, who bestows upon him 250 Sardian horses. Renowned for their beauty, speed, and rarity, these "Heavenly Horses" are a breed so perfect that men would kill just to possess one of them. Inspired by China’s majestic Tang Dynasty, Under Heaven follows Shen Tai as he embarks on a perilous journey to collect his gift, one that may end up costing him all that he holds dear.
Roc. 592 pages. $26.95. ISBN: 9780451463302

Globe and Mail (Canada) 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Under Heaven is virtually everything a reader could want in a book: a thrilling adventure, a love story, a coming-of-age tale, a military chronicle, a court-intrigue drama, a tragedy and on and on. It is a sumptuous feast of storytelling, a beautifully written tale with a beating, breaking heart at its core that will have readers in tears by its final pages." Robert J. Wiersema

SF Reviews 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Written with Kay’s signature sense of awe towards the grandeur of civilization and the forces that shape it and the lives of those with roles, large or small, to play in the drama of history, this is an unforgettable and essential epic from one of the field’s titans." Thomas M. Wagner

Fantasy Book Critic 4 of 5 Stars
"Under Heaven has two awesome qualities that make it a worthwhile read by themselves: beautiful writing and exquisite world building. The ornate ... style works perfectly in the context of the peak of culture that was the Tang dynasty in the early to mid 700’s and the book is a pleasure to be read and savored." Liviu Suciu and Cindy Hannikman

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"[T]he novel you’ll want for your summer vacation. ... [H]e continually thickens his novel with appealing minor characters, thus adding to the story’s overall richness as well as suggesting that much else is going on just outside our narrative field of vision." Michael Dirda

Onion AV Club 3 of 5 Stars
Although the book’s fictionalized history of medieval China’s Tang Dynasty is painted in rich, vivid strokes, it’s also painted in broad ones that often obscure the clip of the plot--not to mention the characters themselves. ... [A] galloping but sometimes bumpy ride." Jason Heller

Critical Summary

"What a lush and expansive world Kay has created here," wrote the critic from the SF Review. Indeed, most critics were quite in awe of Under Heaven, an ambitious undertaking that proved almost impossible to put down. With its unparalleled character development and marvelous storyline, Kay’s latest is sure to appeal to lovers of historical fiction and fantasy fiction, as well as to readers who never thought they’d pick up a fantasy novel. There were a few quibbles: one reviewer felt that secondary characters were occasionally lost in the crowd. Well, that’s just part of life in the world of thick, world-building fiction. Under Heaven is a strong entry in that category.