Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay. Book review

Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay. Harper/Voyager ‘18.99

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan

Guy Gavriel Kay is a man who likes to play with history. In Under Heaven he travels east down the Silk Road to the China of the Tang Dynasty. This was a highly civilised and mannered society. To rise in society it was necessary to pass examinations. Even the humblest needed to be able to read and write as well as to know history and to write poetry.

Shen Tai, is prevented from taking his exams by the death of his father. According to custom, the family was expected to withdraw from society for a period of two and a half years. The only exceptions are for those with military rank. Tai decides to spend his period of mourning on the plains of Kuala Nor, the site of fierce battles between the Kitai and the Tagur. He spends two years alone, burying the bones of the dead.

Lives can change on a whim. When the Kitan princess, who was sent to Tagur as a bride, hears of Tai’s efforts, she gifts him with two hundred and fifty of the most sought after horses in the whole of Kitai, making Tai immediately the target for assassins. One is already on the way, sent by Wen Zhou, the new first minister but for an entirely different reason. Tai has to negotiate through the minefield of manners and political intrigue. A casual gift has already changed his life; it could change the fate of his nation as well.

This is a book that starts with a strong image and unfolds in a mannered way. It is never short of interest, the life in ancient China being painted with deft strokes and the beauty of fine poetry. The fantasy element is small but to compensate there are strong female characters, including Tai’s bodyguard.

Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay. Harper/Voyager ‘18.99

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan

Guy Gavriel Kay is a man who likes to play with history. In Under Heaven he travels east down the Silk Road to the China of the Tang Dynasty. This was a highly civilised and mannered society. To rise in society it was necessary to pass examinations. Even the humblest needed to be able to read and write as well as to know history and to write poetry.

Shen Tai, is prevented from taking his exams by the death of his father. According to custom, the family was expected to withdraw from society for a period of two and a half years. The only exceptions are for those with military rank. Tai decides to spend his period of mourning on the plains of Kuala Nor, the site of fierce battles between the Kitai and the Tagur. He spends two years alone, burying the bones of the dead.

Lives can change on a whim. When the Kitan princess, who was sent to Tagur as a bride, hears of Tai’s efforts, she gifts him with two hundred and fifty of the most sought after horses in the whole of Kitai, making Tai immediately the target for assassins. One is already on the way, sent by Wen Zhou, the new first minister but for an entirely different reason. Tai has to negotiate through the minefield of manners and political intrigue. A casual gift has already changed his life; it could change the fate of his nation as well.

This is a book that starts with a strong image and unfolds in a mannered way. It is never short of interest, the life in ancient China being painted with deft strokes and the beauty of fine poetry. The fantasy element is small but to compensate there are strong female characters, including Tai’s bodyguard.