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Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay

Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay
Book Name: Under Heaven
Author: Guy Gavriel Kay
Publisher(s): Roc
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / Audiobook / Ebook
Genre(s): Historical Fantasy
Release Date: April 27, 2010

Under Heaven is the first book in the Under Heaven duology. It is set in a fictionalized version of the Tang Dynasty of 8th Century China and contains a masterful story of family, intrigue and power.

“The world is not something to be understood. It is vanity, illusion to even try.”

This was my first book by this author and it will definitely not be my last. Every word is well placed and the writing is very well thought out. It was a pleasure to read. The writing immerses you in the world and characters, and makes you want to read on. It is quite a long book at over 500 pages, and at times the pacing makes it quite a slow read, but even in the slower moments, the book was compelling. The first few chapters really hook you into the story. Once I started reading I didn’t want to put the book down.

Another strength of this book was the worldbuilding. Under Heaven takes place in Kitai, which as I’ve mentioned is an alternate version of the Tang Dynasty. It is clear the author has done a lot of research on this period. Now I do not know a lot about Chinese history, so I cannot comment on authenticity, but I can say this complex world is richly painted. Not only do we get a good understanding of the world as a whole, we also get to see some of the inner workings of court intrigue. I love political intrigue in fantasy and Kay has done it so well. Everything unfolds at just the right pacing, without rushing, and it was a pleasure to watch it all unfold.

Although we mainly follow Shen Tai, there is a fantastic cast of characters. This is primarily a character driven story with compelling narratives for each character perspective. Shen Tai’s perspective is used the most, but each perspective is as interesting as the last and the flow is never disrupted by a switch of perspectives. All of the characters are incredibly well written. There are many characters I loved, but one of my favourites would have to be Wei Song. She is such a strong and intriguing character and I would love to know more about her. There are many more characters I could talk about, including Li Mei, Sima Zian and Meshag, but then this review would be incredibly long. Just know that all of the characters in this book are all complex, flawed and wonderfully vivid. Even with a character you dislike, Kay manages to make you think twice about them and see them in a more sympathetic light. The relationships are also well written and it was interesting to see how they all developed throughout the book.

Everything about this story is well thought out and I loved every second of it. I cannot wait to read more from this author. Under Heaven is a wonderful mix of historical fiction and fantasy that has resulted in a compelling and fascinating read. Kay has managed to weave all the elements together seamlessly to create a complex and layered book. This is the kind of book that you just don’t want to end and I cannot recommend it highly enough. It has definitely moved into my favourites. I will definitely be checking out the other book in this companion duology, River of Stars.



  1. Avatar Lady Ty says:

    Thank you for a great review Pippa, I loved this book and agree there were so many well drawn characters it is hard to choose, but Wei Song and Li Mei were outstanding for me. Glad you will read more GGK and particularly recommend the two Sarantine Mosaic books and Tigana.

  2. Avatar Rob Mammone says:

    Kay has been consistently brilliant since the 1980s. He occupies the very heights of the genre, and a lot of the so called greats today could learn a great deal from him.

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