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River of Stars (Under Heaven #2)

4.09  ·  Rating Details ·  4,805 Ratings  ·  591 Reviews
In his critically acclaimed novel Under Heaven, Guy Gavriel Kay told a vivid and powerful story inspired by China’s Tang Dynasty. Now, the international bestselling and multiple award-winning author revisits that invented setting four centuries later with an epic of prideful emperors, battling courtiers, bandits and soldiers, nomadic invasions, and a woman battling in her ...more
Hardcover, 656 pages
Published April 2nd 2013 by Roc (first published April 1st 2013)
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Samuel No, but the foreknowledge would bring interesting comparisons about the cultural changes and enrich your understanding.

I will warn ahead of time that…more
No, but the foreknowledge would bring interesting comparisons about the cultural changes and enrich your understanding.

I will warn ahead of time that he writes in a meandering style, almost a stream of multiple consciousnesses, but as the plot develops the streams narrow into a forceful river.(less)

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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What is it to fall out of love? It is has been a long time since I’ve done it and so I don’t remember. From what I recall, it was something unconscious for a long time. Something in your turn of phrase, in the explanations that you seek out and find, the articles you share and how often you choose to go to bed early. I remember it being full of protestations, a passion that was stronger than I felt and heavy with tears. The music I remember is always on constant repeat and probably confused by m ...more
I feel cheated. I hate these wishy-washy anti-climactic Kay endings, and the wishy-washy over-virtuous flat characters, but that was not the only thing that disappointed me here.

I must say that although I loved most of the first three quarters, I hated the ending.

The book is supposedly based on the fall of the Northern Song Dynasty in China, and a lot of the background does indeed portray this.

Sure, there was a Chinese general who underwent a fate like this, but since Kay changed and embroidere
Bob Milne
A sequel in terms of setting and history, if not character or plot, River of Stars sees Guy Gavriel Kay return to the Chinese-inspired world of Under Heaven. It's a book that can be enjoyed by new readers as a standalone volume, but one which holds added significance for readers already familiar with the first.

As a fan of Kay's work, and someone who thoroughly enjoyed Shen Tai's journey through the dying days of the Tang Dynasty, I was quite curious to discover how Ren Daiyan's adventures in the
May 03, 2013 Algernon rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, 2013

With every Kay book I read I'm tempted to say: 'This is the best one yet!' River of Stars is no exception. It may be only the fact that it is fresh in my memory, but I believe the author has reach a new height in his quest to conjure and breath life into ancient histories. I have also noticed that the supernatural elements feature less and less with each new novel, as if the actual events that served as inspiration are enough in themselves to interest the modern reader and we don't need fairie

What do I say about this book? The trends that I hoped were an aberration in "Under Heaven" seem to have increased and not waned. I read the book, it was well-enough written but there was no magic, no sense of intimacy, no prose that made me want to stay on a page indefinitely.

Like "Under Heaven", the scope of the canvas was enormous; the dilemmas faced by the characters seemed less poignant and more inevitable. In addition, the distance placed between the reader and the characters was in
Mogsy (MMOGC)
Dec 14, 2012 Mogsy (MMOGC) rated it it was amazing
4.5 Stars. Review also posted at The BiblioSanctum

Because I've read and enjoyed Guy Gavriel Kay's Under Heaven, I became intrigued and very excited when I first found out about River of Stars. Set in the same "universe" and timeline but approximately four centuries after the events of the first book, this isn't truly a sequel and can definitely be read as a standalone. Still, in my humble opinion it wouldn't hurt to read Under Heaven first; like I said, I thought it was a good book, but it also
J. Michael
Apr 14, 2013 J. Michael rated it it was ok
Kay has fallen into a bad habit of engaging in crude foreshadowing and irritating digressions. In both Under Heaven and River of Stars he has stopped to tell us explicitly why the story is important. It is as if he has lost the confidence to just let the story tell itself and let the reader decide why it's important.

In River of Stars the characters lack the nuance that I came to love him for. Few of them are a mix of good and bad. Ren Daiyan is essentially a superhero, capable of amazing feats a
Apr 07, 2013 Janet rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy, novels
Guy Gavriel Kay is one of my favorite authors, one of only two or three whose new books I pre-order -- but his last few books have been disappointing. Instead of presenting beautifully-drawn characters moving in vivid times, he seems to be talking *about* the story he is telling. The sense of personal engagement and risk, of being caught up in great times, so beautifully rendered in Lions of Al-Rassan, The Sarantine Mosaic, and the Fionavar trilogy, is entirely missing here.

I was also disappoin
Ranting Dragon
Jun 07, 2013 Ranting Dragon rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, dan

River of Stars is the twelfth novel by Canadian author Guy Gavriel Kay and is based loosely on twelfth century China during the Song Dynasty. Like many of his works, Kay weaves historical names, places and events into a fictional tapestry that still retains the feel of historical work, while engaging the reader in the intensely character-driven style that makes his works so engrossing.

Nothing happens, and everything happens
It's been my experience with fant
Bryn Hammond
Aug 22, 2015 Bryn Hammond rated it it was ok
Shelves: imagined-fiction
I haven’t read any Guy Gavriel Kay – he’s been on my interest list – until his two China books. Underwhelmed with them, when I had quite high expectations of Kay, I take into account a number of reviews from fans who feel he does not live up to himself in these, that they lack in character or have become self-important. I did not find the people in these books deeply-drawn or engaging, and his portentous tone drove me up the wall. Observations along the lines of: ‘Sometimes that happens’, ‘So
May 11, 2017 Katie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A little slow to take off but definitely one of my favourite Kay books. Thus concludes Katie's great GGK backlist read through.
Jan 27, 2013 Darcey rated it it was ok
I'm normally a GGK fangirl: I can read "Tigana" a hundred times and love it, swoon about his character and world building skills, his modification of historical events into amazing fantasy settings. I can do all of this with almost everything he's written - but I can't do it with "River of Stars". The character development is weaker than his standard, the political events painfully predictable even for someone not intimately familiar with Chinese history, and the novel on the whole becomes an ex ...more
Jan 31, 2013 Liviu rated it really liked it
River of Stars is a very ambitious book - a very loose sequel to Under Heaven and based on the events of the 1120's - and after a shaky and somewhat boring beginning introducing a "youth of destiny" becomes very interesting in the exploration of the political machinations and the lives of a few upper class men and women who surrounded the pleasure-loving emperor.

Unfortunately from about half on the novel becomes extremely predictable as it follows the broad outlines of the actual historical even
Apr 11, 2013 John rated it really liked it
Shelves: sf-fantasy
See a master at work. Even though I became really weary of all the "This is how legends begin," "The smallest of incidents can trigger huge events," "In later years x would often remember what happened then," and like pontifications the characters and sheer sweep of this kept me reading (skipping the stylistic curlicues after the first fifty or so) and provided a satisfactory reading experience---as his books are wont to do. Here he recasts the end of the Northern Song Dynasty and the beginning ...more
Megan Baxter
Jul 27, 2015 Megan Baxter rated it really liked it
This is a weird review to write, in a way. Because if I ran into this book by just about any other author, I'd probably be falling all over myself right now. However, this by Guy Gavriel Kay, and Under Heaven was just an astounding achievement of a book, and I don't think River of Stars is quite as good. Don't get me wrong - River of Stars is very, very good. It is merely great instead of a masterpiece.

Note: The rest of this review has been withdrawn due to the changes in Goodreads policy and en
He'd been told that Xinan, the capital of glorious dynasties, had held two million people once, and that only a hundred thousand or so lived there now, scattered among rubble.
Well, so much for the glory of the Ninth Dynasty we saw in Under Heaven. Turns out civil war will do that to a society. River of Stars picks up Under Heaven's world several hundred years later. It isn't so much a direct sequel, given that all of the characters from Under Heaven are long dead by the time River of Stars beg
Sarah Bringhurst
Jun 20, 2013 Sarah Bringhurst rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fantasy, asia
After reading and loving Under Heaven, I was a little afraid to read this one, for fear that it would not be as good. And it's true, it took me a little longer to get into it, if for no other reason than that the fifteen-year-old bandit was not as likeable of a protagonist to me as the cultured and courageous (if eccentric) Shen Tai of the earlier novel.

However, after a few chapters I was pulled into the story and soon utterly enamored. It is rare for a book to move me to tears, and yet both of
Althea Ann
Jun 23, 2013 Althea Ann rated it it was amazing
Excellent historical fiction set in ancient China, with only a light hint of fantasy in the form of mythological elements. I love nearly all of GGK’s books. This may not be his best, but it’s definitely up in the top 50% of his works.

The story is not fast-moving (although it has action-filled moments), rather it builds slowly, like a tapestry carefully growing on a loom… weaving the tales of two people, and those they touch…

Ren Daiyan grows from an ambitious boy, to an outlaw, to a military man
Jonathan Strahan
Feb 28, 2013 Jonathan Strahan rated it it was amazing
River of Stars is a follow-on of sorts to Under Heaven, though it's a better book in almost every way. A deeply moving historical fantasy, it recasts events from Northern Song Dynasty China, the fall of the city of Kaifeng, and the stories of the great general Yue Fei and poet Li Qingzhao. Gripping from the first pages to the last, Kay has never written a better book. Extraordinary.
Jul 14, 2013 Mieneke rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Guy Gavriel Kay is an author whose writing I admire immensely, but whose work I've only read sparsely. To be exact, only twice, A Song for Arbonne and Tigana, the latter I've only listened too and to me that is a completely different experience, so perhaps that one doesn't even count. I did read rave reviews for Kay's previous release, Under Heaven, and the book is still on my humongous 'If I win the lottery, these are the books I'll buy list'. So when I was approached about reviewing it I was r ...more
A very interesting, and almost mythical read, I found myself enjoying the book from beginning to the end, and the ending was one that left me wanting more.

I found the book to be very interesting, the time period and how the author told the story was extremely well done. While, it took me a while to get used to the authors writing style, I think it worked almost perfectly with the story and its characters. The level of care the author took to create the detailed history of the setting, along with
Mar 22, 2013 Nicholas rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy, kindle
I'm a huge Guy G. Kay fan, so I can't really give an unbiased review. I love his stuff. I don't always know why I love them until a second reading. Last Light of The Sun was like that for me. It grew on me after thinking about it.

As for River of Stars I have two non-plot-related thoughts on it. The first is that it feels like a prediction. Kay's choice of the fall of the Song Dynasty from a decadent civilization to anarchy is deliberate. Our decadent civilization may be falling to internal and e
Jan 11, 2013 Stefan rated it really liked it
It would be wrong to call Guy Gavriel Kay’s new novel River of Stars a sequel to 2010’s Under Heaven. As Mr. Kay recently said in an interview I conducted with him: “If someone wrote a book about 16th century Italy (think, Renaissance) and another about Garibaldi in the 19th century, would we be discussing how they were similar or different, 400 years apart?”

It’s true: yes, these novels share the setting of Kitai, a fantasy version of China that’s, as the author likes to say, “a quarter turn to
Sep 04, 2015 Aildiin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy, favorites, novels
I have been a fan of Guy Gavriel Kay's writing since the first book I read from him and he does not disappoints me.
He has an uncanny ability to tell very moving tales of people caught in key moment of history ( the end of the Muslims presence in Spain in the Lions of Al Rassan, the end of a certain way of life in the middle ages in A Song for Arbonne ).
This book is another of those tales with the setting being 12th century imaginary China and the end of the Northern Song Dynasty following the Mo
Jan 26, 2013 Jessica rated it it was amazing
There is nothing like a book by Guy Gavriel Kay. He balances on a fine line between high fantasy and historical fiction, written with a poet's pen. Every word is carefully placed, every sentence is delicately constructed. Years of research go into each book (Song Dynasty China was the jumping off point for this book), and years of writing as well, and it shows.

RIVER OF STARS is a brilliant book. A powerful book. A tender book. The characters are painted with luminous brushstrokes; I found mysel
Vedran Karlić
Apr 18, 2017 Vedran Karlić rated it really liked it
Nikada nisam tako dugo čitao jednu knjigu koju je Kay napisao. Počeo sam još prošle godine, a tek je sada završio – trebalo mi je skoro pola godine. Pa čak i uz to bio sam blizu tome da joj dam peticu, zadnja četvrtina knjige mi je bila odlična, no u konačnici to nije bilo dovoljno da prevagne.

Dio razloga leži sigurno u mjestu radnje, baš kao i kod njegove prošle knjige, Kina jednostavno nije 'pogodila u sridu'. Bilo mi je nekako strašno daleko sve to o čemu čitam, možda zato što o tom periodu z
Nov 24, 2013 Stephen rated it liked it
Overall Assessment: Worth Reading

River of Stars serves as an excellent example of a critic's dilemma. The book is ambitious in its scope, breadth, and especially, stylistic conventions. It is far more complex, daring and interesting than most science fiction/fantasy titles. Yet, while acknowledging all this excellence, I must also acknowledge that it ultimately didn't work for me.

For me, the core of the issue is Mr. Kay's heavy use of extreme foreshadowing and the third person - what
Dec 12, 2016 Joseph rated it it was amazing
A stunningly beautiful book about love and duty and honour and war and decisions we make and the way they're remembered, and the rise and fall of dynasties and empires.

Plus plots and intrigues that cut like a knife.
Sep 05, 2013 Ruth rated it it was amazing
River of Stars by Guy Gavriel Kay

A beautifully created book. Such simple language, easy flowing sentences, complex overall structure. I was amazed that in so much of the book the author appears to break many of the rules of style I had been told to avoid:
- Sentences with 'there is/are/was/were;
- Using 'this' etc without antecedents;
- Starting off with a description of the weather or season;
- Overusing models;
- Using weak verbs (to be, seem, appear);
- Talking to the reader in parentheticals;
- Al
Rick (from Another Book Blog)
To my knowledge, I've only twice finished a book, closed it's back cover, and been struck with a visceral, short-of-breath, don't-quite-know-what-to-do-with-myself emotional reaction, where I'm somehow on the verge of crying and screaming and laughing all at the same time. In my entire life, the only moment that compares is the one where I knew I had truly fallen in love. The first of these (literary) moments was after I read To Green Angel Tower by Tad Williams, when I was 19, the second was af ...more
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Miévillians: River of Stars Final Thoughts and Spoilers 3 16 Aug 20, 2013 06:44PM  
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Guy Gavriel Kay is a Canadian author of fantasy fiction. Many of his novels are set in fictional realms that resemble real places during real historical periods, such as Constantinople during the reign of Justinian I or Spain during the time of El Cid. Those works are published and marketed as historical fantasy, though the author himself has expressed a preference to shy away from genre categoriz ...more
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Other Books in the Series

Under Heaven (2 books)
  • Under Heaven (Under Heaven, #1)

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“There are so many stories, she thinks, and most of them end up lost.” 12 likes
“We are not gods. We make mistakes. We do not live very long.

Sometimes someone grinds ink, mixes it with water, arranges paper, takes up a brush to record our time, our days, and we are given another life in those words.”
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