Ryan's Reviews > Under Heaven

Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay
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's review
Nov 03, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: fic-literary, fic-fantasy, fic-historical
Read in August, 2010


Under Heaven is set in a world that strongly resembles 8th century China, though Kay takes some liberties with history, modifies familiar place names, and adds a touch of the supernatural. Overall, I enjoyed the elegant, understated simplicity of Kay's prose, which seemed to capture the feel of an era as much as the story's details. The author makes it easy to imagine the subtle, silk-clad machinations of an Imperial court, the barbarian wildness of the Mongolian steppes, the daily lives of courtesans, servants, and military officers, and their internal conflicts between family honor, ambition, duty to the empire, and their own hearts.

That said, I found the plot a little slow-moving and didn't grow as close to the characters as I have with other favorite works of fiction, partly out of Kay's restrained manner of presenting their lives. The portrayal of events towards the end of the book became a little sweeping, at the expense of the personal moments and scenes that had made the first chapters so compelling. Still, a quality work of literary fantasy. The audiobook reader did a fine job with accents, as well, conveying characters from different places without overdoing it.

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