From the opening whenÿthe son of general who had served the Emperor of Kitai is nearing the end of a two year period spent mourning his father by burying the dead of a battle many years in the past.ÿ What is interesting is that the dead are not only his own Kitai, but those of the Targu as well - hence they are the dead of both sides of the conflict and the area is neutral ground for them both.
The man - Shen Tai - buries the dead out of filial piety and, yet, he is rewarded with an extraordinary gift: 250 Sardian horses.ÿ To a man in Tai's position, this gift is beyond belief as he considers himself to be a simple man and these horses are so highly prized that just one of these horses is a great gift and four or five of them is more than enough to have the person wind up with great rank and to earn him a jealousy that could very well kill him.
Under Heaven is Shen Tai's story as much as it is the story of those he meets - either to help him or kill him. It is a sweeping saga that invokes the kind of imagery that both sweeps the reader along like a flood and finds still pools for the reader that allow the reader to rest before plunging him or her back into the torrent.
There are over 570 pages to the book, there were other things that needed doing, but Under Heaven kept calling me back again and again until the last word was read.ÿ What drew me back was not only Mr. Kay's imagery, the characters draw you in as well - their outlooks, how they interact with their world, each other and their insights into themselves and how others see them.ÿ It is also a book that invokes a time long since gone and the intrigue, jealousies, measures, countermeasures that went along with it.ÿ And the masks that are worn that may or may not be penetrated by those who surround each individual as well as the sacrifices committed for another's sake.
A book that is well worth reading, keeping on the shelf, and to read again once in a while.
Re-Released Review: Originally reviewed - 2010-06-08
In his latest innovative novel, the award-winning author evokes the dazzling Tang Dynasty of 8th-century China in a story of honor and power. Inspired by the glory and power of Tang dynasty China, Guy Gavriel Kay has created a masterpiece. 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. 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, propel him towards rank, and earn him jealousy, possibly mortal jealousy. Two hundred and fifty is an unthinkable gift, a gift to overwhelm an emperor. Wisely, the gift comes with the stipulation that Tai must claim the horses in person. Otherwise he would probably be dead already...