Under Heaven

Under Heaven

By: Guy Gavriel Kay

Kay is one of my favorite authors.  His works are engaging and intelligent.  I have yet to be disappointed by one of this books.  And Under Heaven is certainly no exception.  What a spectacularly written novel.

It follows the adventures of Tai, a generals son who, after his father dies, goes off to the battlefield that haunted his fathers dreams.  For two years (the official mourning period), he buries the dead of Kuala Nor.  He overcomes the screaming of the ghosts of the dead, and becomes revered by those who man the posts of his country and the neighboring country.  The action of going to Kuala Nor and burying the dead changes the world around him.

Under Heaven is a book about choices.  About how the choices a person makes can affect that person, his family, his peers, and even his country and emperor.  Stemming from Tai’s choice to go and bury the dead of Kuala Nor, the novel branches off into many plot lines.  The cascade of choices that Tai makes based on what happens to him because of Kuala Nor and the choices that the people around him make because of those choices make for an amazingly intricate weaving of plots.  To the very end page, the ripples of that choice can be seen.  Kay uses his normal command of the written language to delicately lead the read on through the path, and carefully reveals only what we need to know.

The novel isn’t as good as some of my favorite Kay novels. It pales in comparison to Tigana, The Sarantine Mosaic, and The Fionavar Trilogy.  And, of course, that will depend on your reading tastes.  Part of the (minor) failing is that with Tigana, Sarantine Mosaic I felt a deep emotional connection to the cast of characters.  I felt the failings of their world.  I never got that connection in Under Heaven.  Now, you can make the decision on whether that’s my failing or the novels’.

Either way, it’s still an immensely enjoyable book.  One that I would recommend you pick up from Amazon or your favorite bookseller.

Books That Changed Your Life

I’ve seen several lists recently that usually have a title something like “10 books that will change your life”, or “5 must read books that will change your life”.  And invariably, they are chock full of non-fiction books on productivity, success, and life-living.  And I can’t help but wonder where the rule book is that says a book has to be non-fiction to change a persons life.  I’ve read many non-fiction books, and only one has ever really, truly, changed my life.  That would be the Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey if you’re wondering.

But, I’ve read several fiction books that I would say have changed my life.  And I would bet that you have too.  Maybe it doesn’t change your life in exactly the same way that a non-fiction book would, but when you’re done reading it, you are forever changed.  The way that you think about things is changed and the way you go about things is changed.  Of course, that’s the reason that most people claim a non-fiction book has changed their life as well.

I’d like to know what books (fiction or non-fiction) have changed your life.  In return, I’m going to give you the list of fiction books that have changed mine.

  1. The Saracen Blade by Frank Yerby.  I first read this book when I was somewhere around 12.  Just as I was discovering the world of an adult, came the first book I had read that really treated the world as an adult.  I hadn’t read much adult fiction up to that point, so the book created an amazing awakening to literature.
  2. IT by Stephen King.  Again, I read this somewhere in my early teens.  It changed my life, mostly, because it is my virginal King read.  The very first of his books to fly before my eyes.  I’ve read nearly every other one since then.
  3. Robot Trilogy by Isaac Asimov. Not a single book, although I could easily have listed each individually.  Or just listed Caves of Steel as it’s first.  I read this somewhere in my mid to late teens, but it’s more memorable to me as it kicked me into the Science Fiction genre.  And for that it has my thanks.
  4. The Summer Tree by Guy Gavriel Kay.  The first in the Fionavar Tapestry, I list it because it led me to other books by Kay.  Most notable, Tigana and The Sarantine Mosaic.

That’s my list.  I doubt that it’s truly complete, but those are the top of the list for sure.  I could go on and list several others, but each in decreasing effect.  Now, it’s your turn.