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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A return to form.
It feels wrong on many levels to review a novel by Guy Gavriel Kay, as he is a writer of a such skill, talent and dedication. Really, who am I to evaluate his work? But as a reader it's good to know what you will enjoy vs. what you will not.

Simply put, if you have ever enjoyed a Guy Gavriel Kay novel you will not only enjoy this one, you will be glad that he...
Published on April 27 2010 by J. Haslam

versus
3.0 out of 5 stars The journey is enjoyable, but unfortunately falls flat at the end
This is my unpretencious opinion, as an avid fantasy, fiction and occasionally historal book reader, in the hope that it will help readers decide or not to give this book a try. I personnally almost always read reviews before buying a product or in this case, a book.

While the story was intriguing, complex and hinted at mysteries and mystical twists, their...
Published 23 months ago by Herbalizer


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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A return to form., April 27 2010
By 
J. Haslam (Toronto) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Under Heaven (Hardcover)
It feels wrong on many levels to review a novel by Guy Gavriel Kay, as he is a writer of a such skill, talent and dedication. Really, who am I to evaluate his work? But as a reader it's good to know what you will enjoy vs. what you will not.

Simply put, if you have ever enjoyed a Guy Gavriel Kay novel you will not only enjoy this one, you will be glad that he wrote it. Guy exploded onto the fantasy novel scene with the Fionavar Tapestry series, and followed it up with the masterfull "Tiganna". It would be hard for any author to reach those heights reliably and repeatedly. But he managed it again with "The Lions of Al Rassan" and perhaps somewhat less successfully with "A Song for Arbonne". But as a reader I felt dissappointed with "Last Light of the Sun" and "Ysabel". While they retained the poetry expected of GGK they lacked the immediacy of his earlier work. They were poetic as expected, but the pacing seemed off, the stories somehow less gripping. Reading them was like watching a movie that was beautifully shot but where nothing of real substance takes place.

But with "Under Heaven" Guy is able to present us with a story that is both poetic AND immediate. It's complex but accessible, substantial. Truly a pleasure to read. Enjoy.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Could be Kay's best work to date, July 31 2010
By 
Patrick St-Denis "editor of Pat's Fantasy Hot... (Laval, Quebec Canada) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Under Heaven (Hardcover)
It doesn't habitually take this long for me to write a review, but I needed time to let Under Heaven sink in properly before doing so. I needed time to gather my thoughts to come up with something that would fully encompass how I felt when I reached the last page of Guy Gavriel Kay's latest. And yet, though I've given this much thought, I'm woefully aware that this pathetic review can never do justice to just how grandiose Under Heaven truly is. Simply put, this is one of the very best novels I have ever read.

Indeed, Under Heaven showcases a Guy Gavriel Kay at the top of his game. No stranger to quality books and memorable reads that remain with you long after you've reached their ending, the author has set the bar rather high throughout his career. To be honest, I doubted that Kay could ever produce a work that would surpass Tigana and The Lions of Al-Rassan. Of course, I should have known better than to think that Kay had already reached his peak. And with Under Heaven, Kay came up with his best work thus far.

Here's the blurb:

UNDER HEAVEN will be published in April 2010, and takes place in a world inspired by the glory and power of Tang Dynasty China in the 8th century, a world in which history and the fantastic meld into something both memorable and emotionally compelling. In the novel, Shen Tai is the son of a general who led the forces of imperial Kitai in the empire's last great war against its western enemies, twenty years before. Forty thousand men, on both sides, were slain by a remote mountain lake. General Shen Gao himself has died recently, having spoken to his son in later years about his sadness in the matter of this terrible battle.

To honour his father's memory, Tai spends two years in official mourning alone at the battle site by the blue waters of Kuala Nor. Each day he digs graves in hard ground to bury the bones of the dead. At night he can hear the ghosts moan and stir, terrifying voices of anger and lament. Sometimes he realizes that a given voice has ceased its crying, and he knows that is one he has laid to rest.

The dead by the lake are equally Kitan and their Taguran foes; there is no way to tell the bones apart, and he buries them all with honour.

It is during a routine supply visit led by a Taguran officer who has reluctantly come to befriend him that Tai learns that others, much more powerful, have taken note of his vigil. The White Jade Princess Cheng-wan, 17th daughter of the Emperor of Kitai, presents him with two hundred and fifty Sardian horses. They are being given in royal recognition of his courage and piety, and the honour he has done the dead. You gave a man one of the famed Sardian horses to reward him greatly.

You gave him four or five to exalt him above his fellows, propel him towards rank, and earn him jealousy, possibly mortal jealousy. Two hundred and fifty is an unthinkable gift, a gift to overwhelm an emperor. Tai is in deep waters. He needs to get himself back to court and his own emperor, alive. Riding the first of the Sardian horses, and bringing news of the rest, he starts east towards the glittering, dangerous capital of Kitai, and the Ta-Ming Palace - and gathers his wits for a return from solitude by a mountain lake to his own forever-altered life.

Under Heaven is another one of Kay's history-based fantasy yarns. The worldbuilding was inspired by the Tang Dynasty of 8th centure China. Richly detailed, the book enthralls you from the very beginning. Not since the Sarantine Mosaic has Guy Gavriel Kay come up with such an evocative narrative and arresting imagery. Not that The Last Light of the Sun and Ysabel were lacking in that regard, mind you. But Sailing to Sarantium and Lord of Emperors swept you off your feet and immersed you into the Byzantine multilayered intrigues from the start. Under Heaven, if you can believe this, is even more powerful. History buffs might disagree, yet I feel that Kay captured the moods and nuances of his chosen setting to perfection. And this richness of details make for an even more impressive reading experience.

Still, beyond the vividly depicted environment, it's the superb characterization that makes Under Heaven impossible to put down. Guy Gavriel Kay has always possessed a deft human touch and his past novels are filled with memorable characters. In this one, the author has outdone himself. As the main protagonist, Shen Tai takes center stage and is a well-realized three-dimensional character. But his tale would never be as touching without the presence of men and women like the Kanlin Warrior Wei Song, the poet Sima Zian, the courtesan Spring Rain, or the Taguran officer Bytsan sri Nespo. Although the fate of the entire empire of Kitai could be on the brink of doom, at its heart Under Heaven remains a character-driven work revolving around the lives of the members of the Shen family; Shen Tai, his brother Shen Liu, now principal advisor to the first minister, and their sister Shen Li-Mei.

Absorbing, Under Heaven is the sort of book you wish would never end. It does start a bit slow, yet as you read along you realize that Kay was just laying the groundwork for what is to come. I felt at times that there was more than enough material to warrant at least a duology. However, looking back, I feel that drawing out the story, though it would have fleshed out certain events and characters, would indubitably have robbed readers of such a moving ending. The momentum would never have been the same had the book been split into two installments. In retrospect, I can't find a single thing I didn't like about this one. . .

Although it's still early in the year, I'll go out on a limb and predict that Under Heaven will be the speculative fiction novel of 2010. For the life of me I can't imagine having the privilege to read any work matching, let alone surpassing, the magic of this book. Novels don't come much better than this.

Award-winning author Guy Gavriel Kay has been one of my favorite writers for years. Hence, it came as no surprise that Under Heaven turned out to be a gorgeous and unforgettable work. I expected no less from Kay. What I didn't expect was the feeling of awe that left me speechless when I reached the end. . .
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4.0 out of 5 stars Collection, Feb. 7 2013
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Under Heaven (Mass Market Paperback)
I should have bought this book new as I have most of the books by this author on my shelf.
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3.0 out of 5 stars The journey is enjoyable, but unfortunately falls flat at the end, Aug. 11 2012
By 
Herbalizer (the nude dimension) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Under Heaven (Hardcover)
This is my unpretencious opinion, as an avid fantasy, fiction and occasionally historal book reader, in the hope that it will help readers decide or not to give this book a try. I personnally almost always read reviews before buying a product or in this case, a book.

While the story was intriguing, complex and hinted at mysteries and mystical twists, their themes were not resolved ...leaving the story with many unanswered questions and unresolved plots. I'd even dare to wonder why some of the details were even mentioned if they added no real substance to the story. This could be answered by the assupmtion that the story might have been initially made to involve these themes more, but were in the end left out due to lack of space and/or time ...And that's exactly how the end of the story feels like ..like it's been rushed ...That the author didn't have time to finish it ...that he was rushed by his publisher to complete the book at a certain time and/or wasn't allowed to exceed a certain number of pages. It's unfortunate, because it had a lot of potential and I really enjoyed the journey, expecting the themes that were introduced to be addressed but that didn't happen ..it fell flat, and didn't procure satisfaction at the end of it.

That is why I give it 3 stars.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Kay at his best, April 6 2010
By 
Christopher Johnson "cjohnson03" (Ontario, Canada) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Under Heaven (Hardcover)
Having just finished Under Heaven, I can say that it easily rivals Kay's best works, and is in fact my new favourite book. After the dividing Ysabel, Kay returns to the historical fantasy he is best known for with awesome success. All the reasons I've loved Kay's other books, the superb characterization and flawless storytelling.. The royal courts are so convoluted, very reminiscant of his Fionavar Tapestry series. The chinese-influenced setting is perfect for Kay's style.

Easily 5/5 stars. Possibly his best novel, which is amazing considering the awesomeness of Tigana. An absolute must-read!
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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another Kay triumph, March 4 2010
By 
P. Corbett (Toronto) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Under Heaven (Hardcover)
Under Heaven is another delight for Kay fans. Once again he has created a delicately detailed world not quite in a known time and place. Following Shen Tai's journey, physical and spiritual, as he is caught up in a time of upheaval and thrown into the highest company by an unexpected gift is a wonderful glimpse into that world that is, yet is not, the Tang empire. The characters all have depth and their lives slowly resolve into a complete picture as the story rounds out to the end.
I'll give it all a few days to settle into my brain and then begin to read it again to savour the details anew.
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5.0 out of 5 stars excellent, Dec 21 2011
This review is from: Under Heaven (Mass Market Paperback)
Great story that offers so much more than the best selling page-turners. If you haven't read Kay's work, do so.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Vivid imagery and poetic writing, Feb. 15 2011
By 
Jessica Strider (Toronto, Canada) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Under Heaven (Hardcover)
Pros: lyrical writing, interesting characters, detailed history/world, political intrigue

Cons: ending is a bit long

Under Heaven tells the story of Shen Tai, second son of a famous general. Upon the passing of his father, Tai decides to spend his time in mourning burying the dead from a battle site that brought his father sorrow. For this service he is gifted with 250 Sardian horses. This gift propels him into a role of importance in the country, and will either save him from assassination attempts, or create more of them.

The book is patterned off of the Tang Dynasty of China. Kay adds in a lot of historic details (way of life, poetry, class distinction) to make the book feel real. There is a lot of rich detail and imagery.

The intrigue is mostly concerning a few people in power and how the gift of these horses will be used (and if Tai will be killed before he can claim them). There is very little physical action. Most of the tension comes from verbal sparring and trying to grasp Tai's sudden change in status. The novel is very immersive. I missed my subway stop because I'd reached a point in the book where I HAD to keep reading. There are many such points in the book.

The ending is a bit long. Kay tied up as many loose endings as he could, which took a while. This isn't really a problem as the characters are all fascinating and you want to hear how things turn out for them.

If you're looking for action, look elsewhere. If you want court intrigue, poetic writing and a great story, you've come to the right place.
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5.0 out of 5 stars `You could say that there was never a clear beginning to anything in life,..', Oct. 8 2010
By 
Jennifer Cameron-Smith "Expect the Unexpected" (ACT, Australia) - See all my reviews
(TOP 50 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Under Heaven (Hardcover)
'.. unless it was the moment you drew your first breath in the world.'

This novel is set in the fictional world of Kitai, which is based on China's Tang dynasty (618-907 CE). The novel opens with Shen Tai, the second son of a famous Kitan general, observing his two year mourning period for his father by burying the dead of both armies at Kuala Nor, the site of his father's greatest battle. His efforts - to bury the bones of one hundred thousand soldiers from both the Kitan and Taguran armies - are appreciated by both sides. Both sides support his efforts by replenishing his supplies. One day, towards the end of his two years, the Tagurans deliver a letter. This letter disrupts his life: he has been presented with 250 Sardian horses as a gift in recognition of his courage and piety. Five of these highly prized horses would be a gift for an Emperor, 250 is a dangerous, life-changing gift.

Shen Tai must leave Kuala Nor for the imperial court: once knowledge of this gift is public, his life will be in danger. Once Shen Tai leaves Kuala Nor, he comes into contact with Kanlin warriors, with bureaucrats and courtesans and ultimately with the Kitan court. His journey is not straightforward: there are those who seek to kill him as his gift threatens the balance of power in an empire that is now faltering.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, and while I recognised many of the Chinese cultural and historical influences on the world of Kitai, it was the well developed characters that made the story so enjoyable. Shen Tai may be the central character, and his journey is the one we are most focussed on. But it is not the only journey taking place, and the secondary characters and journeys are an important part of the world Guy Gavriel Kay has created.

`Sometimes the one life we are allowed is enough.'

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful., May 15 2010
By 
A. Mckenzie (Toronto, Ontario Canada) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Under Heaven (Hardcover)
I've been a long-time Kay fan, and although I enjoyed his most recent work I didn't feel it rose to the same level as some of his earlier novels ('Lions', the Sarantine Mosaic). 'Under Heaven' is unquestionably a return to the top of his form. The worldbuilding is exquisite, the plot is sprawling without ever being difficult to follow, and there is so much depth in the book that I think I'm going to have to read it again to fully appreciate it. I actually wondered how well he'd handle a parallel-China when I first heard about the theme of the book - I shouldn't have worried! Definitely a leading candidate for the big fantasy awards this year.
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Under Heaven
Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay (Mass Market Paperback - April 5 2011)
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