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.