Under Heaven

Under Heaven

by Guy Gavriel Kay


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Award-winning author Guy Gavriel Kay evokes the dazzling Tang Dynasty of 8th-century China in an masterful story of honor and power.

It begins simply. Shen Tai, son of an illustrious general serving the Emperor of Kitai, has spent two years honoring the memory of his late father by burying the bones of the dead from both armies at the site of one of his father's last great battles. In recognition of his labors and his filial piety, an unlikely source has sent him a dangerous gift: 250 Sardian horses.

You give a man one of the famed Sardian horses to reward him greatly. You give 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.

Wisely, the gift comes with the stipulation that Tai must claim the horses in person. Otherwise he would probably be dead already...

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780451463890
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/03/2011
Pages: 608
Sales rank: 437,212
Product dimensions: 6.14(w) x 8.80(h) x 1.30(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Guy Gavriel Kay is the international bestselling author of numerous fantasy novels including The Fionavar Tapestry trilogy, Tigana, The Last Light of the Sun, Under HeavenRiver of Stars, and Children of Earth and Sky. He has been awarded the International Goliardos Prize for his work in the literature of the fantastic, and won the World Fantasy Award for Ysabel in 2008. In 2014 he was named to the Order of Canada, the country’s highest civilian honor. His works have been translated into more than twenty-five languages.

What People are Saying About This

Nancy Pearl

"I loved, loved, loved Under Heaven. It had everything in it that made me such a fan of Guy Kay in the first place." --(NANCY PEARL, librarian and book commentator on NPR's Morning Edition)

From the Publisher

"I loved, loved, loved UNDER HEAVEN. It had everything in it that made me such a fan of Guy Kay in the first place. I thought the new one was perfect."
-Nancy Pearl, Book Commentator NPR "Morning Edition"

"A magnificent epic, flawlessly crafted, that draws the reader in like a whirlwind and doesn't let go."
-The Huffington Post

"Guy Gavriel Kay's fictional rendition of the Tang dynasty of ancient China in Under Heaven reads almost as a historical document. For anyone who enjoys a smart political thriller, a historical recreation or a good ghost story, this novel offers all three in an immensely readable union."

"Guy Gavriel Kay, hunting in the twilight zone between fact and dream, has written a shimmering novel, a fantasia on T'ang China, the epitome of Chinese civilization, as beautiful and as alien as the rings of Saturn... a beautiful, compulsive read..."

"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."
-Globe and Mail (Canada)

Customer Reviews

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Under Heaven 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 101 reviews.
tiapam More than 1 year ago
Characters not so finely drawn as in previous books. You will have to read the epilogue for closure on some characters. Still it is impossible to not get sucked into the maelstrom of the multiple layers of story line whirling through the pages. As always, if something in the book niggles at your mind, hang on to it. It will come back to a pertinent character or story line for resolution. Mr. Kay continues to write as a gourmet cook prepares a 7 course meal. You will have flavors and textures that will continue to to tease your mind well after the book has been read. Thank you, Mr. Kay. I will continue to attempt to have your books in hand on the day they come out.
sandiek More than 1 year ago
In Under Heaven, Guy Gavriel Kay has created a masterpiece of an Oriental culture, that of the land of Kitai. It relates a time of intrigue, political maneuvering, rebellion and change. The book's hero, Shen Tai, is suddenly thrust into this environment and must adapt to survive. The book opens in a remote location called Kuala Nor. It is the site of an ancient battle where thousands of men were killed, their bleached bones still hungering for honor. Shen Tai spends two years at this site, during his time of mourning for his father who was a famous General. He spends his days far from all he knows and those he loves, burying the bones of the dead soldiers, both Kitan and those of the enemy force. Although he expects nothing from this labor, it does not go unnoticed. At the end of his time, two events happen. First is that an assassin, sent by enemies back at the Kitan royal court, attempts to kill him. Second, a Princess, who is the daughter of the Kitan Emperor but who was sent to a bordering country in a political marriage, makes a life-changing gift to Shen Tai. Horses are the lifeblood of the armies and of trade. Most valued of all are Sardian horses. One is more than most men can ever hope to attain. The Princess sends Tai two hundred and fifty of these magnificent horses. This is a life-changing gift; a gift that will echo down the ages. Shen Tai must find a way to get to the Emperor's Court and give this gift to him for national prestige and honor. There are many who will try to stop him and gain the horses for their own gain. The Court is full of rival factions, each vying for favor and the possibility of future honors as the Emperor weakens with age. In addition to the political relationships, there is also the effect of love. Men do anything for the women they love, but at the same time the women also are caught up in the intricate games of statesmanship that are the daily fare of Court life. These love relationships are finely honed and the reader must read more to find out what will happen in the rivalries that exist between men over love. Kay has written a masterpiece. It straddles the genres of historical fiction and fantasy and in doing so, takes the reader on a fascinating and engaging journey. The characters are finely drawn and their intricate relationships are revealed slowly to the reader. The political intrigue and themes of honor, entitlement and military maneuvering is presented in a complex story that leaves the reader with a sigh of contentment as they turn the last page. This book is recommended for all readers.
willowhalliday More than 1 year ago
"Under Heaven" is a well-crafted story of the Tang Dynasty of eighth-century China. It is fast-paced and intricately layered with political intrigue and treachery that you need to read it a second time to fully grasp all the subtleties and undercurrents that are taking place. There are places where the story becomes repetitive but that just gives the reader a chance to sort through and absorb what they have just read. Although "Under Heaven" is fiction, it is still an excellent history lesson and one that I found difficult to put down.
harstan More than 1 year ago
Second son Shen Tai has spent the last two years as the only living person amidst the forty thousand dead, burying the bones of the dead from both sides. He does this to honor his late father, Kitai Empire Left Side Commander of the Pacified West General Shen Gao who died here while leading his side to victory. Tai's endeavor is rewarded with the unexpected stunning gift of 250 Sardian "Heavenly Horses", the greatest steeds on the planet. To obtain his gift, he must come in person to the Sardian Court of their former enemy so he leaves the ghostly mountain battlefield for the capital of the Kitai Empire, Xinan. Tai knows how valuable they are, but soon learns others agree as assassination attempts to send him to his late father begin even without his claiming the horses yet. Under Heaven is a superb historical epic that builds off an ancient Chinese dynasty to tell a beautiful tale of power abused, betrayal, honor and love. The secondary characters enhance a strong sense of what the hero is going through as the audience will feel we accompany Shen Tai on his travels. Guy Gavriel Kay provides a deep saga of a hero rewarded and consequently assaulted for honoring his father by interring the remains of valiant soldiers from both sides to their ghosts can silently rest forever. Harriet Klausner
Kariflower More than 1 year ago
There's only one problem with this book... it ends. As with all Kay's craftings, Under Heaven has such elegant, lyrical phrasing one might weep. I fight to make his books last, reading one chapter a day, otherwise I'd stay home from work and just finish in one sitting!
MelissaP-bookworm More than 1 year ago
Guy Gavriel Kay's many books fill a special shelf in my library - I only keep books I plan to re-read over and over and I have re-read all of GGK's books several times. It's amazing how 5 or 10 years in personal growthcompletely change your view of the characters or their actions. I am thrilled with his new book as he has created a totally new side of his world. Everything is different, he moves his characters around a giant chessboard and you cannot guess the next move. His style of writing, which I thoroughly enjoy, makes reading a pleasure, sometimes at warp speed because you are dying to know what happens next and then sometimes slowly to savor how he strings his words together to discribe the way a woman's hair is held in place with two pins (or weapons). The richness is in the details. I read it twice in two weeks, loved it and I hope he revisits this land again. Until then, I have my shelf of his books that I reread every so often and surprisingly, learn something new each time - or is it just that I'm older and understand men and women better. Whichever, please write me another "Under Heaven".
lissalaine More than 1 year ago
I have been a fan of this author since the original release of the Fionavar Tapestry series and continue to believe Guy Gavriel Kay is one of the best contemporary fantasy authors we are privileged to read. Under Heaven proves that again, with an amazing descent into a world based on the Tang Dynasty. The story introduces you to one man's idea to honor his father, which becomes a catalyst to change in his life and a window into the changing dynamics of an aging emperor and his desperately maneuvering court. It's a world where beauty and grace are so admired that even to pass exams to become a civil servant in the empire you need to be able to communicate your knowledge by poetry that is carefully rendered in exquisite calligraphy. If you have read GGK then you know you are in for an imaginative, smoothly fulfilling story. If you haven't, well all I can say is that I'm continually saddened by the lack of people who have heard of this fabulous author. If you are looking for something beyond the stereotypical then this is your author to try!
readinggeek451 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This does not take place in Kay's usual alternate world, the one with two moons. Instead, it is a very close analogue of Tang Dynasty China. It has all the grace and power of Kay's mature work. Historical fantasy at its finest.
TadAD on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Under Heaven is another exceptional quasi-history from Guy Gavriel Kay. This wasn¿t really a surprise¿my take on his stories is this: if he writes it, I will read it, virtually certain of enjoyment.In some respects, I would even say this is his best work. His departure from Europe and the Middle East for China during the Tang Dynasty (Kitai in the book) has resulted in his richest setting and deepest-realized characters. Kay leads us, for almost 600 pages, across the sprawling empire, through the intrigues of the palace, to the pleasures and pains of the brothels, from dealings with the powerful Tibetan Empire to the southwest, to the Great Wall and the nomadic tribes whom it was meant to block.Along the way, Kay does what he does best, introducing us to people who feel real. Some are drawn from China¿s past: generals and imperial concubines of history occupy these pages as pivotal characters; even the poet Li Bai, the ¿Banished Immortal¿, becomes Sima Zian, keeping both his sobriquet and fame. Others, such as Shen Tai, the unassuming second son who is thrust into Empire-shaking events, are from Kay¿s imagination. In each case, real or imaginary, major or minor, they are drawn with such color and detail that the reader becomes engaged with them, believes in them.And, in a way, this is the difficulty in this story¿leaving it, contrary to what I said above, not his best work. For, having spent almost the entirety of this book investing us in these characters, there are simply too many fascinating tales for him to resolve in the pages remaining. Whether 567 pages was his choice, his publisher¿s, or both, we are left wondering what happened to some of those minor characters we met along the way, and wishing a hundred more would have been allowed. I finished this story with the same sense of quiet contentment I always have with one of his stories, but it wasn¿t quite as complete as it was after, say, a recent re-read of The Lions of Al-Rassan.Yet, don¿t let this make you hesitate¿Kay is always a sparkling and enjoyable read. This one is no exception.
lauranav on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I own and have read all of Kay's books. I have been looking forward to this book since it was announced. I love how Kay takes a place and even a period of history that we are at least somewhat familiar with and then personalizes it. He tells the story of a few of the people who were there and played a part. He seldom focuses on those at the very top but portrays those close to them and some with no power but just observing and living in interesting times. Under Heaven is set in a land we recognize as China with a long and illustrious past, as well as much violence. During what seems to be a peaceful time there is much intrigue at court as men volley for power and honor and a legacy. Some are better at the game than others and a failure could affect everyone. The story is in many ways unique, yet also very much a Kay novel. We find love denied and love found. Some seek peace and quiet and others learn they like the action and intrigue of the court. Women can be quite strong characters and sometimes pay a price for the power they have. He includes some poetry, of course. And some characters are only mentioned in passing and left because this is not their story. The ending hints at where some of the characters went but conveys the fact that time keeps moving and there are other stories not being told here and the historians often miss things or misinterpret events. A very satisfying read.
awoods187 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is my first Guy Gavriel Kay book, and I had heard great things. The story was somewhat interesting. The writing was unique, but hard to follow. Worth the time to check out if up for something different but not amazing or anything.
fsmichaels on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
So well done - a mix of history and fantasy. Full of political intrigue. Takes some patience to work through as it isn't pre-written for the movies, like so many books are now, but worth it.
fyrefly98 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Summary: Shen Tai is the second son of a major general of the army of Kitai. After his father's death, Tai's formal two-year mourning period has been spend at the site of his father's last great battle. He has been living in solitude in the isolated mountain valley on the borders of the empire, burying the bones of those who died in battle - both Kitan soldiers and the Tagurans, their enemies. As a thank-you, the Taguran empress gives Tai a generous gift - two hundred and fifty "heavenly" horses of the finest Sardian stock. One such horse is enough to inspire jealousy in other men, so Tai is suddenly wealthy beyond his wildest imaginings... and just as suddenly thrust into the world of imperial politics and strategizing far beyond his depth. For the capital city of Xinan is a dangerous place for those who don't know how to play the game, and play it well... and Tai has been isolated from city life for almost two years.Review: I'd seen a lot of other reviews proclaiming Under Heaven to be Kay's best book yet, and I was hoping to find that to be the case, but sadly, it just wasn't. At least, it wasn't his best in terms of how much I enjoyed it and how involved in the story I became. On technical terms, I can easily believe it's his best; Kay's writing and use of imagery are as flawless and breathtakingly beautiful as ever, and his world and its characters feel rich and complex. The theme, of the small chances and coincidences that shape the course of our lives and of history itself, is a familiar one in Kay's work, although his previous books have dealt with it a little more subtly. Kay also did a good job with the storytelling, keeping me interested in the politics as well as the people - mostly by making the politics about the people. Still, I never got as involved with the book as I would have liked; Kay's usually pretty good about wringing tears from my cold dead heart (I was a wreck for the last 50 pages of The Lions of Al-Rassan for example), but Under Heaven just didn't elicit any strong reaction from me. However, this may have been more my fault than the book's - I read it during a very stressful and distractable few weeks - and others' reactions may vary. Also, a book doesn't need to be among Guy Gavriel Kay's best to be worth the reading; even an average book by Kay is better than 90% of the rest of books out there, and if you're looking for historical fantasy, he's clearly at the top of his game. 4 out of 5 stars.Recommendation: If you're not normally a fantasy fan, don't let the genre label scare you away; apart from some ghosts briefly interacting with the physical world, and a bit of shamanic magic in a sub-plot, this book is otherwise straight-up historical fiction based in a fictionalized country modeled on Tang-Dynasty China. If you are a fantasy fan, and like rich, serious, mature novels, you should definitely be reading Kay, and while Under Heaven wasn't my favorite of his books, it would be a fine place to start.
marciathing on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Very good, if sometimes a little too intense. Overall an excellent, thought-provoking read.
Hatsepshut on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a tale from ancient China, exploring the power, intrigues and politics of the ruling dynasty. I didn't find it as totally gripping as Kay kan be at his absolute best, but a good read. Absolutely. And the tale of our hero with his burying of the long dead, is facinating.
Bombadillo on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Kay is in fine form. The reader gets not only a ripping good read but also a fair idea of court life in T'ang China. A would be scholar (mandarin) finishes two years of mourning by burying war dead and then returns to court to announce that he has been given 250 of the best horses anywhere. He confronts many swirls of intrigue with a drunken but revered poet and a female bodyguard (we would say ninja or shaolin monk) as his companions.
Jim53 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This seems to be a "return to form" for Kay, after his last two novels deviated from his usual formula. Under Heaven reminded me of the Sarantium books more than any of his others. The novel is set in Kitai, a reimagined China of the late first millenium. The central character is Shen Tai, second son of a famous general. After his father's death, Tai takes on the work of burying the dead of a horrendous battle outside the empire, appeasing their ghosts. His labor is noticed and honored not only by his own nation, but also by the foes whose dead are intermingled with the Kitans. Tai is given a large gift that changes his life in numerous ways.Tai must navigate the subtle currents of the empire's iner circles. At least, Kay tells us of their subtlety over and over. He could have shown us some more striking and illustrative examples of this subtlety rather than telling us repeatedly how subtle they all are.I liked Tai, for the most part, but he does not seem to be as well developed as many of Kay's other protagonists. My favorite characters in Under Heaven were Wei Song, the female warrior, and Sima the tipsy poet. There is the usual (for Kay) collection of nicely sketched secondary characters.In previous works, Kay has done a better job of melding the storytelling (characters and events) with the philosophizing. In Under Heaven, these two threads seem more separated; this makes the philosophizing stick out more and interfere with the progress of the story. Perhaps this is Kay's adaptation to the culture he is depicting. He is to be commended for moving on from the comfortable Mediterranean setting common to several of his novels and tackling a very different world.A fine historical fantasy, but not a great one. I'll have to re-read it in a year or so to see how it holds up.
hanque on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The setting for this story is in a fantasy country that resembles China. The main character, Shen Tai, goes to an desolate area to bury the bones of dead soldiers killed in a battle won by his father. He buries the bones of the dead from both sides and the enemy in that battle gives him a gift of 250 prized horses. In his country, folks would cheerfully kill him to steal the horse. The impact of 250 of the horses is unimaginable. Suddenly, powerful people are anxious to meet him while others are hiring assassins. It would take me a few thousand words to adequately relate the plot of this wonderfully complex story. Instead I'll just say that this is one of the best books I've read in years.
briandarvell on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is the latest novel by Canadian author Guy Gavriel Kay. It is also the second story I¿ve read of his ¿ The Summer Tree being the first one. Under Heaven is basically a historical fantasized version of ancient Tang Dynasty China. Kay has begun making a name for himself in this niche version of speculative fiction.The story has quite a lot of good philosophical fodder that was pleasant to read. Overall the writing was very good and there were numerous passages that I noted. A little discouraging was the marketing of this book as epic fantasy. Anyone who has read real epic fantasy a la George Martin, Robert Jordan, Steven Erikson, etc¿ would be a little frustrated with this story being called epic. It was a good story, somewhat long, but epic it was not and I had no trouble following each of the characters and remembering their names and past.Another annoying feature of the story was a consistent referencing to wine drinking. Everyone is always drinking lots of wine in this book and the author isn¿t shy about telling us so. I think after the first multiple occasions we hear about the binge drinking nature of the people we don¿t still need to be repeatedly told.There is tons of intrigue in this novel that I found exciting and suspenseful. Around the middle of the novel it was tiring to hear different characters repeating the same thing others in previous sequences had mentioned. The author should have reduced the constant repetition in favor of new intrigues.An original element to the story was the author was obviously enjoying playing with Tang-era poetry. There are multiple poems linked into the story and even one of the main characters is a famous poet.Overall I thought the story was good. If the constant repetitions to various elements were removed in favor of new intrigues and elements than the novel could have been amazing but unfortunately there was less depth to the overall story than I was hoping for. I would recommend this novel but perhaps a bit sparingly as there is much more in-depth historical fiction that I¿ve enjoyed.
jmccarro on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
"Under Heaven", by Guy Gavriel Kay, is an historical novel set in China during the 8th century. It concerns a young man, Shen Tai, who receives a gift from a princess. But it is not just any gift. It is an extraordinary gift. It is a gift that will change his life and the course of an empire.The book begins with Tai burying dead soldiers at the site of a battle fought long ago. He does this during a period of mourning for his father, whom he has recently lost. During this time, much has changed at his home, and he eventually receives word of his gift. The remainder of the book chronicles his journey home, and his plan to receive the gift, which he must do in person.This story is filled with fascinating characters, expertly developed by Kay. Among my favourites is "The Banished Immortal", who is the formost poet of his age. There are many others - too many to list - but each is given a wonderful treatment in the book. Kay makes the reader care deeply for his characters, which seems to be a trait of his writing in general, but is no better displayed than in this novel.The only flaw I could detect was a passing mention of a potato field; there were no potatoes in Tang China.This book is among the very best books I have ever read. I rank it up there with Homer's "Odyssey" and Tolkein's "Lord of the Rings". This is the kind of literature Pulitzers and Nobels were made to honour.
chndlrs on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Fun historical fiction/fantasy set in ancient China. Reminds me of The Bridge of Birds.
clfisha on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
[Under Heaven] by Guy Gavriel Kay So so historical fantasy(Average) Some parts of this story are striking and beautiful, mostly though I just floated through in an oddly detached way noticing it's many faults. So whilst my caveat is that I sort of enjoyed it, I cannot recommend it to anyone but interested GGK fans. I think it's mostly the theme of fate that detached me from the story. This is a tale set firmly in the past and the foreshadowing is heavy, the outcome is set. There is very little else to make you care what happens and it's like watching very ornate, pretty Chinese wallpaper. Maybe it also doesn't help that the main characters are only minor figures in a chaotic and turbulent period of history, the ones on the sidelines not in the spotlight. Or maybe it's because I never really got a sense of place, a must in historical or fantasy book. That could be that because this is a field well trod, in films and books and I expect something more, something different. Of course it really didn't help that the main protagonist seemed slightly anachronistic at times (and dull), very western and just stating that he cannot play political games does not make it feel true. To be honest after the lovely beginning I just found most characters dull, only the female characters occasionally roused my empathy.There were other problems. Stylistically I think it fell down; how many times does an author need to repeat plot points or themes? Repetition of phrases is something GGk used to use to good effect so why it fell down here I don't understand, but being told again and again (not shown but told) that certain things such as the Chinese fear wolves is something I didn't need and found dull. I also disliked the usually justified use of jumping, fleetingly, to a small unimportant character. This usually works to good effect expanding the view point and adding to the drama, but again here I didn't understand the point. Why for example did we jump into the young prostitute's head for 2 pages? I didn't gain any knowledge or see her again? At least I don't remember.
fiverivers on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Under Heaven, by Canadian author, Guy Gavriel Kay, presents an alternate world story based on 8th century Tang Dynasty China. As with all Kay¿s novels, he lovingly creates characters and a world that subtly and deftly draws in the reader, fitting together emotional and environmental detail that is lush without being overblown. His recurrent themes of examining the balance of power against the simplicity of ordinary lives once again plays a part in this novel. Yet somehow Kay manages to keep that theme fresh. Unlike Last Light of the Sun, which has a breathless pace to it, Under Heaven carries a languid, slow momentum, almost Hardyian in execution, where the land and its forces dictate the culture and actions of people. There is the feeling of grandeur to this novel, of ancient forces at work, and as a counterpoint to that Kay examines the sometimes ambiguous nature of kindness and cruelty. As an excellent escapist read you will find Under Heaven compelling and satisfying. As an excellent work of literature you will find Under Heaven memorable and worthy of revisitation.
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