UNDER HEAVEN by Guy Gavriel Kay

Guy Gavriel Kay’s new novel is once more inspired by Chinese history, this time during the Song Dynasty, almost four centuries after the story told in his bestselling Under Heaven. The dazzling elements of the Song – cultural brilliance, vicious political rivalries, warfare against nomadic peoples, court mandarins versus the military – are rich ground for Kay’s unique blending of fantasy and themes of history. Vivid among a large cast, a young man with a dream of regaining the empire’s lost ‘rivers and mountains’ and a brilliant woman trying to shape a space for herself outside the ‘inner quarters’, where women are expected to live out their lives, confront the challenges and dangers of a world in turmoil. The Song Dynasty’s legacy is prominent in the way Westerners imagine Chinese history to this day and Kay weaves a story that captivates on both an epic scale and within the intimate lives of his characters.


Under Heaven is one of my favourite novels from the past five years and, though I’m not as well read in Kay’s work as I’d like (they’re rainy day novels for me), it’s also one of the author’s best. My excitement for him to return to that world/setting is unabashed and nearly shameful.

  • Adam March 10, 2012 at 10:59 am

    One can’t go wrong with GGK. The Asiatic setting worked marvelously for him last time, and gave him a real opportunity to take advantage of his poetic gifts. I’m definitely looking forward to more.

  • Kathleen March 12, 2012 at 11:14 am

    That is great! I have UNDER HEAVEN sitting right here, and I love it when an author goes forward in time in world-building. It is a great way to explore themes about social deveopment etc.

  • Keyoke April 2, 2012 at 4:02 pm

    I have never read anything from Kay, and I have this book plus Tigana and Lion of Al-Rassan. I always get the impression his books are boring. I guess it just seems they lack the epic feel. Of course, these are perceptions. I haven’t read it.

    Plus, I am heading to China in June, so, Under Heaven has me interested. Thoughts? I noticed you didnt have a review of it here.

  • Aidan Moher April 2, 2012 at 4:05 pm

    I didn’t review it here, but Under Heaven was one of my favourite books published in 2010. I can’t recommend it enough. His novels are ‘Epic’ by the standards of, say, Steven Erikson, but there’s certainly a lot of depth to dig into and some of the best characters and world-building in the genre.

  • Keyoke April 2, 2012 at 4:41 pm

    Cool. Always here good things, but, I always seem to shy away from the books. I’ll put it on my short list after I finish my current read. Thanks. :)