Under Heaven

Paperback | April 5, 2011

byGuy Gavriel Kay

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A Globe and Mail Top 100 Book
A Washington Post Best Fiction Book

Each night for two years Shen Tai has listened to the ghosts of dead soldiers in the darkness outside his isolated cabin. In honour of Tai’s recently deceased father, a celebrated general who led the imperial army in battle here, he has devoted himself to the solitary task of burying the bones left lying by the mountain lake. But as Tai prepares for his return to a brilliant, dangerous court, he receives news of an extraordinary gift. A gift that could change the empire—or end his life.

In Under Heaven, Guy Gavriel Kay tells a story of honour and power, treachery and love, in a setting that evokes the dazzling Tang Dynasty of eighth-century China.

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From the Publisher

NATIONAL BESTSELLERA Globe and Mail Top 100 BookA Washington Post Best Fiction Book Each night for two years Shen Tai has listened to the ghosts of dead soldiers in the darkness outside his isolated cabin. In honour of Tai’s recently deceased father, a celebrated general who led the imperial army in battle here, he has devoted himself...

GUY GAVRIEL KAY is an international bestselling author. He has been awarded the International Goliardos Prize for his work in the literature of the fantastic, is a two-time winner of the Aurora Award, and won the 2008 World Fantasy Award for Ysabel, a #1 bestseller in Canada. His works have been translated into more than twenty-five la...

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:736 pages, 7.51 × 4.25 × 1.96 inPublished:April 5, 2011Publisher:Penguin CanadaLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0143168754

ISBN - 13:9780143168751

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Rated 3 out of 5 by from Not his finest work Let me start by saying that GGK is my favorite author writing single novels. While his works are not as prodigious as I prefer, they are no less satisfying for it. Tigana is, handsdown, my favorite novel of all time; and Lions and Arbonne are not far behind. That said, I have not read GGK in 20 years and recently picked up this book hoping he could restore my faith in fantasy, which has hugely waned over the past decade; there are still great writers I avidly read, such as Steven Erikson, but his abilities are more rare these days. To UH. Most of the great novels I have read take somewhere between 50- 100 pages to hook me; GGK had me immersed in 8 pages. His writing was as compelling as I remembered and I was fixated through the first 300 pages. Unfortunately, he runs out of steam/ vision and much like inferior writers, introduces another, far less compelling, storyline to fill space; the other character added very little to nothing to the narrative. Approaching the last 3rd of the novel, he again focused on the main character and the story began to increase my enjoyment again; it didn't last. The last 100 pages of the book went from a micro view of the characters and time to a rushed, sometimes backwards looking, view of the story. It was an approach I have never seen another author take, and, for me, it failed miserably. Not only did I find the writing style less than ideal, the actual decisions made with the characters were incredibly disappointing. While the strength of the beginning of the novel has me rating the overall novel average, I was immensely disappointed overall. In hindsight, that they chose to prominently put the recommendation of The Globe and Mail on the cover, a publication not known for its literary reviews, should have indicated I should have set my expectations much lower.
Date published: 2016-06-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The finest work of fiction to come from the pen of Guy Gavriel Kay When I sit down to immerse myself in a book, the overall narrative style is important in drawing me into the author's world, but it's generally the sophistication of the overall plot and the strength of the characters that makes me want to stay there. As such, I don't usually wax poetic about the lyrical language of a story, the smoothly coursing flow of words, or the layered beauty of sentences and paragraphs. Well, this is one of those exceptionally notable exceptions. Under Heaven is, far and away, the finest work of fiction to come from the pen of Guy Gavriel Kay. It's a book that is perfect in almost every respect, so much so that I was sorry to turn that last page and lay it down, finished. It is definitely a long book, and one best enjoyed at a leisurely pace, but it could have continued on for another five or six hundred pages and I would not have voiced a word of complaint. In terms of plotting, it's an odd tale, and one that requires a unique sort of patience on behalf of the reader. The story at the forefront of the tale initially seems a little light, given the length of the book, but the story behind that is so deep, so heavily layered, that you don't quite realize precisely how much is going on until Kay shakes us out of our complacency and thrusts us into the final part of the book. Most of the book revolves around Shen Tai, second son to a celebrated general of the imperial army, who has spent the last two years burying bones and laying souls to rest around a mountain lake to honour his father's passing. In honour of his efforts, he finds himself granted a gift of impossible value - 250 Sardian horses - that makes him a major player in the political upheaval that threatens to bring about and end to a dynasty. Along his journey to the capital in answer to a summons from the Emperor, Tai is targeted by assassins, wooed by rebels, betrayed by his elder brother, loved by his protector, befriended by the generation's greatest poet, and drawn into a game of politics that he's never wanted to play. He is forced to rise above his station, to demand the respect accorded to his honours, and to play a shocking role in the transition of an empire. He is a remarkable character, an admirable young man to whom the reader can almost relate - if only he weren't so spectacularly worthy of the highest esteem. What makes the story so exquisite is the fact that the characters surrounding Tai are so well developed, they they're worthy of being main characters in their own right. In fact, his sister's magical journey is a story all on its own, escalating a young woman to royalty and shipping her off to a barbarous marriage, only to see her rescued by a man more wolf than man. Wei Song, Kanlin warrior and protector to Tai, is another strong woman, one who is largely responsible for seeing him to his destiny, while Wen Jian, Precious Consort of the Emperor, is a woman as dangerous as she is beautiful, and almost dizzying in her grasp of the game of politics. Like I said, it's a long story, told at a leisurely pace, and narrated almost exclusively in the present tense. It makes for an unusual read, almost too literate for the genre, but the reader's patience is more than amply rewarded. The subtlety of the telling is exceeded only by the intricacy of the schemes and plots, with a myriad of small events commingling to change the course of history. It's a read that leaves me almost reluctant to read River of Stars, since it's almost unimaginable that an author could manage to capture such lyrical magic twice in a row, but if anybody can do it, it's Kay.
Date published: 2013-02-19
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Different from his previous books I have read Overall it is not a bad read. It is not filled with action like his previous works or even close to the expectations that most fantasy readers would have. But the political intrigue was very good and got me into the book. The unfortunate part is that the early part of the story is drawn out very heavily and is very difficult to get through. It took me months to get through the first couple 100 pages. The middle was great and I was thoroughly into the story. The ending to me felt rushed and left me wanting to understand more of the details of what happened.
Date published: 2012-08-13
Rated 3 out of 5 by from fantastic not so much Under Heaven is a fantasy novel but the fantastical is under-stated. There are ghost and shape-shifters but they take a back-seat to the period drama that unfolds in ancient china. Most of the sword and sorcery takes place off-stage. On stage is palace intrigue. If you like a novel to plod along then the story is likable. I expected more action.
Date published: 2011-10-03

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Editorial Reviews

“[A] great joy to read…. One of the things that Kay’s books have in common is their way to leave the reader breathless. There is so much emotion in some parts of Under Heaven that it’s almost like his signature for me to read it with my heart at my throat…. Under Heaven may well be Kay’s best book ever…. [T]he reader is often left with a lump filling her throat by the power and the beauty of his words. This is, without a doubt, one of the best books of 2010.” - Speculative Book Review“Guy Gavriel Kay is, simply, my favorite living author, and few writers, living or dead, have so consistent an effect upon me…. Under Heaven … is, simply, a great book…. His characters are people who elicit emotion. Some, we care deeply about what happens to them; others, we hope they meet a terrible end … That emotional involvement with the characters … makes possible one [of] the most deeply satisfying endings to a novel Kay has written yet” - Greenman Review“Guy Gavriel Kay’s Under Heaven … is the novel you’ll want for your summer vacation.” - The Washington Post“A recurring problem in fantasy and science fiction is the absence of strong and plausible female characters. This is one of Kay’s great strengths. His … are fully realized and believable, and not merely the stereotypical place holders they too often are in the hands of less skilled authors … Under Heaven is an engrossing read, filled with well-drawn characters who live in a richly detailed world.” - Winnipeg Free Press“Kay is a masterful storyteller, and his prose is strong; rhythmically varied, it plays with point of view and perspective, getting inside the heads of a range of characters to broaden the world of the book.… The story itself is quick and clever, with twists that feel both unexpected and natural.” - Montreal Gazette“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“Guy Gavriel Kay’s Under Heaven … is the novel you’ll want for your summer vacation.… [Kay] … moves his plot along at a rapid clip. At the same time, he 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.” - Washington Post“Canadian superstar Guy Gavriel Kay’s latest rich blend of history and the fantastic … Under Heaven evokes the Tang dynasty of 8th century China.” - Toronto Star“Kay is a genius. I’ve read him all my life and am always inspired by his work. You will love Under Heaven.” - Brandon Sanderson, New York Times bestselling author“Under Heaven … is one of his best…. [It] demonstrates Kay’s ability to convert historical research into impeccable detail and verisimilitude, breathing life and depth into the world he creates without weighing the story down with too much description or background.” - Vancouver Sun“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 for NPR “Morning Edition"“Meticulously researched yet seamlessly envisioned, the characters and culture present a timeless tale of filial piety and personal integrity.” - Library Journal (starred review)“In Under Heaven, Kay explores eighth century Tang Dynasty China…. The narrative is rich, compelling and powerful.” - Telegraph-Journal (New Brunswick)“[M]aybe only a writer with Kay’s skill and imagination could make this story of screaming ghosts, Heavenly Horses and rebellion against an all-powerful government in such a far-off time and place so gripping…. This is another work by Guy Gavriel Kay to cherish as it inspires the imagination. I have happily cleared a permanent home for it on my bookshelves” - The Saskatoon Star Phoenix“Kay is a philosopher at heart with far more to offer than comic book representations of clanging swords and perfumed seductresses.… What Kay has created here is a mythic tale in the tradition of Odysseus.” - Quill & Quire“Kay delivers an exquisitely detailed vision of a land much like Tang Dynasty China … the complex intrigues of poets, prostitutes, ministers and soldiers evolve into a fascinating, sometimes bloody, and entirely believable tale.” - Publishers Weekly (starred review)“Kay says he wants his readers to keep turning pages until two a.m. Under Heaven should certainly help him achieve that goal.” - Booklist (starred review)“Guy Gavriel Kay has the ability to bring worlds and people alive on the page in a way that few authors today seem capable of. Although he uses the same repertoire as other authors—characterization, plot, atmosphere, etc.—somehow they are employed in such a manner that we’re not aware of them as individual components. Like dancers and music they move together in such harmony we can enjoy the image they create without noticing the steps taken to bring it about. In Under Heaven he not only reaffirms his reputation as a storyteller par excellence, but as a master of bringing people and cultures alive. This is a magnificent creation that you will want to read over and over again for the joy of reading it brings you.” - Blog Critics“Guy Gavriel Kay, hunting in the twilight zone between fact and dream, has written a shimmering novel, a fantasia on Tang China, the epitome of Chinese civilization, as beautiful and as alien as the rings of Saturn … a beautiful, compulsive read…” - Locus“What a lush and expansive world Kay has created here. What textures and nuances are called up by his prose. Under Heaven is a magisterial work, the rare kind of story that absorbs you completely into itself…. Under Heaven is literary and supremely entertaining, and it may be Kay’s best yet.” - SF Reviews.net“This is an astounding book. Inspired by Tang Dynasty China, this novel is a complicated puzzle, beautifully rendered. The cast is as epic as the story and each plays an integral part—there is no waste here. This is a poetic and thought-provoking novel that will stick with readers long after they’re done reading the story.” - Romantic Times, Top Pick“Kay’s signature talent for interweaving various characters, motifs and storylines are on full display here…. This is a novel by a master storyteller whose gift for creating richly imagined universes that reflect our own is truly unparalleled.” - Historical Boys“[T]his 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…. I feel that Kay captured the moods and nuances of his chosen setting to perfection. And this richness of details makes 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.… 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.” - Fantasy Hotlist