Review: Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay

Under Heaven

This was a really different tale than I typically read. Set in what is a fantasy-version of Medieval China, it follows the lives of a number different people who have a huge impact on the course of the empire. The tale starts with Shen Dai who is spending his official mourning period following the death of his father at the site of his father’s worst memory, a battle field at the edge of the empire which was so devastating that many of the slain weren’t even able to be buried. He spends the mourning period burying as many of the dead as he can. This ends up having tremendous consequences for him because he is honored for his work with a gift of 200 of the strongest and most beautiful horses. This is cause for some alarm. He’ll probably be killed for these horses. So, he has to figure out how to navigate the world he’s been out of for two years without getting killed.

Meanwhile, his lover in the capitol has been taken as a concubine by a rival. That rival has moved up in the Palace ranks and is a hugely influential adviser to the king and his brother is that rival’s most trusted adviser. Additionally, his sister has been raised to a princess and has been sent to marry a border tribe leader to cement a treaty.

And, that’s not even half of it. The story follows the lives of Shen Dai, the rival, his brother, his sister, the concubine, an assassin, the heir to the throne, army leaders, border leaders and outcasts and the Emperor’s favorite wife. All of these threads weave in and out of each other in a personal tale about a crisis within the whole empire.

This was an immensely fun listen and I am happy to have read it. Although, it is full of an incredible amount of detail so I ended up listening to some parts of it more than once. (As it turns out, when it snows heavily during your evening commute, you have a lot of time for listening and re-listening to audio books.) If you’re looking for a break from teen romance, I recommend this!

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