Good Stuff: Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay

I’ve n9732865ever read a story like this before, and it really wowed me. Fantasy? Sure. But Fantasy so well researched it could be historical fiction.

Through poetry and intrigue this story brought me on a grand adventure across a land heavily inspired by Tang Dynasty China, a culture that always seemed mysterious and thrilling to me in its complexity and sophistication, especially when compared to what was going on in Europe around the same time.

So  the scope is big, and well-planned, but the world is wrought effectively by keeping close to the protagonist, Shen Tai, who balances martial and poetic mindsets as he struggles with the trials that fall onto him.

And there are trials. For the performance of a selfless act, a deed which he undertook for purely personal reasons, Tai is given a gift that is anything but, a present that turns him into a political firebomb. Think of it this way; if someone gave you a fusion-powered personal hovercar with unlimited range, a completely unique vehicle, you’d think it’s cool, right? But then think about what lengths every government and corporate manufacturer would go to to take it from you?

Not such a good gift, eh?

That happens to Tai. Kind of. But it’s horses. Really good horses, and a lot of them. That’s where the story begins. The rest of this gripping tale follows Tai’s flight and fight to stay alive as every political faction in the empire moves against each-other and against him in the upheaval his staggering gift causes.

It’s a long tale, but the author’s mastery of beautiful language – simple on the face of it, layered with complexities between the lines, and always within a breath of poetry – pulls you fully into this world, makes it as real as your own. When you read this story, you’re not visiting a strange world. You’re living there, immersed in Tai’s existence, and you understand him and the people around him as well as yourself.

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