Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay
Review by Lynley, Nerang Branch
Kay is classified as a fantasy writer, a classification I query for most of his books. Some deserve this classification. Most, however, are stories with fictional characters and places as befits most general fiction. Kay’s places, though, have an identifiable counterpart and time in this world’s known history.
Under Heaven evokes Tang Dynasty China, Mongolia and other border countries (by today’s maps.)
It begins in a time of peace after a terrible war and the death of an illustrious general. To honour his memory, his younger son Shen Tai goes to a valley feared by all to bury the dead of both sides.
In recognition of his efforts and his filial duty, an unlikely person gifts him 250 Sardian horses, known in Shen Tai’s country as Heavenly horses. A man who owns one or 2, or even 4, is either very rich or highly honoured, but 250 will cause jealousy enough to get a man killed, so strict conditions are attached to his gift.
Shen Tai’s journey home provides mysteries seemingly unconnected along the way, all leading to Court intrigues at the highest level and his journey towards solving the mysteries and collecting his gift is fraught with having to side-step even further Court intrigues before the story’s conclusion.
Kay’s latest offering is up to his high standard and is an excellent footnote in history.