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Under Heaven

(Under Heaven #1)

4.14  ·  Rating details ·  12,336 ratings  ·  1,454 reviews
It begins simply. Shen Tai, son of an illustrious general serving the Emperor of Kitai, has spent two years honoring the memory of his late father by burying the bones of the dead from both armies at the site of one of his father's last great battles. In recognition of his labors and his filial piety, an unlikely source has sent him a dangerous gift: 250 Sardian horses. ...more
Hardcover, 573 pages
Published April 27th 2010 by Roc
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V.G. Castle. Minimum amount of swearing and sexual content. Can be read by anyone above 13.
V.G. Castle. I think it's not Song's father. Song's father is not one handed. The one-handed people are the elders in the Stone Drum Mountain. One elder of the…moreI think it's not Song's father. Song's father is not one handed. The one-handed people are the elders in the Stone Drum Mountain. One elder of the Kanlins.(less)

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Average rating 4.14  · 
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 ·  12,336 ratings  ·  1,454 reviews

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Khanh, first of her name, mother of bunnies
Sometimes, words fail me when I need them most. Oftentimes, it's because a book is so bad that I don't even know where to begin listing all the problems. In this case, in the case of my very favorite books, the right words just escape me because there's just nothing I can say. Because my simple, stupid words are meaningless when it comes to describing the pure, untarnished brilliance of this book. I am simply humbled.

It's like thanking the one of the great living people on earth, someone one tr
Feb 14, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: diehard Kay fans
Recommended to Kelly by: only got my own obsession to blame on this one
(Dear Goodreads friends I may have deceived with my initial status updates on this book, please to accept my profound regrets and the below revised retraction- if you don't mind some spoilers...

With apologies,

So, you guys saw Clerks, right? Actually, I think it might’ve been Clerks II, but anyway: there’s one part where some characters pose a very important nerd battle: Star Wars trilogy vs. LOTR trilogy. The major points are as per usual, Darth Vader and l
Paul O'Neill
Apr 06, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Here the world is all the world may be.

A powerful blend of historical fiction and fantasy, Kay delivers a great story about loss and honour. This story is about Shen Tai who, after spending two years in mourning over the death of his father burying the bones and being haunted by their ghosts, is sent an unexpected gift of 250 Sardian horses, otherwise known as ‘heavenly horses’. This instantly puts him in a position of power and Tai must decide what to do with this gift.

Set during a fanta
Jan 24, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Delicious, a meaty, engrossing book with prose that brushed the edges of poetry. In some ways, it is three different books that might have benefited from being turned into full novels, but that's part of the joy of Kay's work-- he always has me wishing there was more time to explore relationships, back stories, and so on. It's an unusual setting for the type of fantasy I read, set in ancient China during the Tang Dynasty, a golden age of China's power. He wove the characters together in one of ...more
How to Write Pretentious Historical Fiction

1. Start with an exceedingly slow build-up -- the more detail, the better. If your book is lengthier, people will assume it's more literary.

2. Choose an exotic time period and locale and evoke it wherever possible. Hopefully the fascinating food and clothing details will help your reader forget that there was no indoor plumbing. Then, proceed to superimpose all sorts of anachronistic qualities on your story to appeal to contempor
Mayim de Vries
Jun 15, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
“It is not always a good thing to be noticed.”

Every dirty trick the writers know to break their readers’ hearts has been employed in this book. And then repeated for a good measure.

I still cannot decide whether Mr Kay is a historian who thought it would be good to become a writer or a writer who’d like to be a historian when he grows up. Either way, he is a master of historical fantasy; those tales with only a dash of supernatural here and there, stories whose magic relies solely on the bardic magnetism of the teller.
David Sven
Jul 16, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Guy Gavriel Kay gives us a fantasized historical fiction of Tang China. What does that mean exactly? A little hard to explain. It feels very authentically like 8th century China complete with the Great Wall keeping the Bogu (barbarian) tribes at bay, the Capital Xinan, and the politics and intrigues of the Imperial court. Then throw in an element of the supernatural/preternatural, with restless ghosts and wandering undead.

After the death of the honoured General Shen Gao, his son, She
Alex Ristea
Jan 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I've said it before, but I'll say it again.

Guy Gavriel Kay's works are a celebration of the English language. It is simply beautiful to read.

Kay started out as a poet, and that's clearly evident in Under Heaven, where not a word is out of place.

The themes of this book are subtle, and will only hit you after some time has passed for digestion. Truth, stories, people, memory, history. The whole time I was reading I thought this book would be 4 stars, but after a
Kat  Hooper
Nov 08, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobook
ORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.

Guy Gavriel Kay’s latest historical fantasy, Under Heaven, is gorgeous. If you’re already a fan of GGK, you know exactly what kind of delight you’re in for. Under Heaven is every bit as wonderful as Tigana, A Song for Arbonne, and The Last Light of the Sun. Every bit.

Under Heaven takes place in Kitai — an alternate Tang Dynasty (but not so alternate that you won’t recognize the names of many of the characters if you read just a brief history of t
May 04, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Because paths can and do fork, in ways no man or woman can ever truly grasp, for that is the way the world had been made."

Shen Tai is a young man who, for the past two years, has worked in near isolation in an effort to pay honor to his deceased father, a well-known former military commander, in a way that would’ve been meaningful to him in life. He has worked from dawn to dusk burying the bones of the dead soldiers – from both sides of the conflict – of one of his father’s last battles. He could
After The Last Light of the Sun (a novel I didn't like), I took a long, much needed break from the writing of Guy Gavriel Kay.

I bought Ysabel, but it languishes on my bookshelf even now. I avoided Under Heaven until it became our fantasy book in the Sci-Fi & Fantasy Book club. Once it won the vote, I thought it might be time to return to Kay.

I was a third into the book when my daughter, Scoutie, booknapped it and hid it under the love seat in the Sun Room. It resurfaced while we were vaccuuming, but b
Em Lost In Books
I wanted to read this for a long time.

Story starts with Shen Tai being gifted 250 Sardian horses (a very valuable breed) by a Tagur (a rival kingdom) princess for his work of burying the dead of a great battle between the kingdoms of Kitai and Tagur. Shen Tai had been doing this in memory of his father. On his last day (after two years of burying the dead), Shen Tai faces an assassination attempt by a Kanlin Warrior (trained and most feared warriors). Somehow Shen Tai survives this attempt. Byt
D. Pow
Jul 18, 2010 rated it really liked it
There was a time, I’d say from the early 90s until six or seven years ago, that Guy Gavriel Kay might have been my favorite writer. He was definitely my favorite fantasy writer- and to call him a fantasy writer is probably misleading, the fantasy elements in his books are often small and subtle-he is more a Historical Fiction writer than anything. He and I have grown apart, though. Mostly because my tastes have changed, I suspect, but also due to his last several books just not being up to his p ...more
Feb 28, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.

Jun 26, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: die-hard GGK fans
Recommended to agata by: SciFi and Fantasy Book Club
Shelves: reviewed, weggegeben
In short: Kay promises a lot, but in the end he falls short to deliver.

A book always comes with expectations. General ones you have towards all books and specific ones for a particular one.
I read "Under heaven" with the "SciFi and Fantasy Book Club". I had not read anything by Guy Gavriel Kay before and didn't know what to expect. I was just curious and decided to give the Kindle sample a try.

I was imediately hooked. Poetic prose, slow and deliberate development of
Jun 12, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: horses, fantasy, 5-star, china
The story begins with one Shen Tai, second son of a great general who has just, two years and a half ago (not quite), died. The mourning period is that long, two and half years, and requires complete withdrawal from society. And Tai, as part of his mourning, to honor his father, has come back to Kuala Nor, where his father won a great victory. That victory cost his people 40,000 Kitan men – and cost the enemy, the Tagurans, 60,000 men. None of these soldiers received burial, and an unburied body ...more
Jun 12, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Under Heaven is a fantasy-ish story set in medieval China. There are fantastical elements, and they do play a pivotal role, but they aren’t at the forefront. My knowledge of Chinese history and geography is nearly non-existent, but I believe this book is based on fictitious locations and characters while being inspired by real ones. I enjoyed most aspects of the story, but I did feel like it occasionally dawdled and sometimes I got restless with it.

The story starts off with Shen Tai, a man
Feb 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was everything I would expect from a Guy Gavriel Kay novel - an interesting period of history that I was largely unfamiliar with (Tang Dynasty China, specifically), a bunch of profoundly human characters in all their flawed glory, and enough emotion to more than justify the kickbacks I'm sure GGK gets from Kleenex.

This book had a great deal of similarities to the Sarantine Mosaic, which is not a bad thing. History is an incredibly rich field of source material, and I dearly wish more a
Megan Baxter
Dec 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Guy Gavriel Kay has created his own little niche - books that are part historical fiction, moved slightly to the left, and part fantasy. That is to say, he researches the hell out of a particular time and place, and then writes in a fictionalized version of that setting, frequently with some magical elements, and almost always with two moons.

Note: The rest of this review has been withdrawn due to the changes in Goodreads policy and enforcement. You can read why I came to this decisio
Oct 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites

“Branching paths. The turning of days and seasons and years. Life offered you love sometimes, sorrow often. If you were very fortunate, true friendship. Sometimes war came.
You did what you could to shape your own peace, before you crossed over to the night and left the world behind, as all men did, to be forgotten or remembered, as time or love allowed.”

To quote my own status update: Guy Gavriel Kay is a master storyteller. End of the story.
Because that's how it is, truly. I had been i/>“Branching
"Shen Tai, son of an illustrious general serving the Emperor of Kitai, has spent two years honoring the memory of his late father by burying the bones of the dead from both armies at the site of one of his father's last great battles. In recognition of his labors and his filial piety, an unlikely source has sent him a dangerous gift: 250 Sardian horses.

You give a man one of the famed Sardian horses to reward him greatly. You give him four or five to exalt him above his fellows, prop
As with Tigana, there was a lot of world-building and a lot of story told in very realistic reminiscence. The setting is Tang Dynasty China (Kitai), and is quite nearly historical fiction with a touch of fantasy magic involving restless spirits, shamanistic possession and alchemy.
Jun 27, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I'll preface my review by saying that I'm a long-time fan of Kay; he's a fixture on my list of favourite authors.

That being said -

I found Under Heaven quite disappointing. From the [lack of] plot to the [extremely under-developed] characters, the whole novel felt very wanting.

Based on Kay's better works (e.g. Tigana, A Song for Arbonne, etc. ) we know that he could have easily made this into a real classic, with characters and lines and imagery that stay with you years after you've read them.

In Under Heaven, you
Mogsy (MMOGC)
A historical fantasy set in far-away Kitai, a land inspired by Tang Dynasty China. One of my favorite books of all time is The Lions of Al-Rassan by Kay, so this fact along with my interest in imperial Chinese history made this book a must-read. Under Heaven tells the story of a middle son of a Kitan general who spends two years in the mountains burying the bones of soldiers from a war that took place there, and is given 250 “heavenly” Sardian horses for his honorable deed. This extravagant gift ...more
Jul 13, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

In Under Heaven, Kay takes us to the 8th century China, evoking the Tang Dynasty and the An Lushan rebellion, in a world very different from the ones he has showed in his previous books; and into a story full with wonderful characters, beautiful poetry and lots of intrigues and some even greater action scenes.

The story follows Tai, the second son of the great General Shen Gao, who for two years now mourns the loss of his father (as it is required for their homage) and live
Oct 28, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Story: 4/5
1: Being Vague, rambling plot with no little believable storyline
5: Ripping yarn, clever, thought provoking

As a Gavriel Kay fan, I was excited to be reading some of his work again, as it has been a while. This story is different from most of this work, (maybe somewhat in the vein of Lions of al-Rassan) with a very strong storyline based around political intrigue of an empire reminiscent of a japanese or chinese emperor. There are very few action scenes in this story with the main plot bei/>
So how much trouble could 250 horses be? I mean, besides feeding them and keeping them in shape it can't be that bad, right?

Well, if these horses happen to be highly prized by very powerful people (including an Emperor) AND you are stuck in the middle of nowhere when you receive the gift you can find yourself in a bit of a pickle. This is the situation Shen Tai finds himself in when he is gifted (though gifted might not be how he sees it) 250 magnificent Sardian horses, horses whose qualities f
This was a really wonderful book. I was told that it had a very slow and steady pace and I found that this worked really well for me. I'm not familiar with the dynasties of China and the character names were a bit more difficult for me. Additionally, I was using the audio. So the way that the characters were introduced one by one, leaving time to get to know them before another was introduced, really worked. The pace did pick up, as did the complexity. I was with it right up to the moment that p ...more
Mar 06, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fantasy, 2010
First a moment of sadness - even after making this one stretch out for a week, I'm yet again facing another likely 3 years until my #1 favorite author releases a new book. I do hate that.

To be truthful, after the wait for Under Heaven, the result was a little anti-climatic. As I was reading it, I kept thinking that it was The Sarantine Mosaic Lite. In both books, a commoner gets embroiled in the politics of an emperor's court during a tumultuous time in the empire's history. In both
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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

Other books in the series

Under Heaven (2 books)
  • River of Stars (Under Heaven, #2)
“How we remember changes how we have lived.
Time runs both ways. We make stories of our lives.”
“The world could bring you poison in a jewelled cup, or surprising gifts. Sometimes you didn't know which of them it was.” 39 likes
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