Thursday 15 April 2010

Under Heaven, Book Review

By: Guy Gavriel Kay

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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