Thursday, August 5, 2010

Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay

This is the 11th novel by Guy Gavriel Kay and I'm surprised that I haven't heard of this author or read anything by him before because this book was an absolute treat. It is set in 8th centruy China, during the Tang dynasty, but the country is only loosely based upon that time and place. The main character is Shen Tai, the second son of a reknowned general that has passed away. Shen's older brother, Liu, is the assistant to the prime minister of Kitan (as Chinas is known n this novel). The brothers have a younger sister that becomes a princess and part of the royal family.

Their father has recently died and part of Shen Tai's mourning was to go to a remote village, where a battle has recently occurred and where there are many unburied bodies.  Of course, ghosts roam the area as well, at least until their bodies are buried. Shen Tai buries the bodies of the dead soldiers that he comes across. As a result of his work, he is given a gift of 250 horses; horses from the nieghboring country that are prized in Kitan. They are workhorses, warhorses, beautiful and they bring honor to whoever owns them. He is swept up in the national political scene and makes friends and connections.  He is the subject of at least one assassination attempt.

This novel, perhaps unsurprisingly once you have read it, took five years of work and it shows. It is well written and well researched. The book is beautiful and full of life. It doesn't drag along and isn't smarmy, like some historical fiction books tend to do. The characters are beautifully developed and drawn. They are multifaceted. This novel is everything that one would want it to be. 

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