Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay is a beautifully written story that takes place during the Tang Dynasty of China. In what I initially thought was suppose to be a “fantasy” genre, Under Heaven feels like anything but that. Did that take anything away from the overall reading experience though? Absolutely not. Under Heaven is an enjoyable read but only if you have patience. I personally can only tolerate so much before I get bored and decide to move on. Luckily, it didn’t have to come to that with Under Heaven. You miles may obviously vary.
Under Heaven is a book that deals heavily with dialogue between characters. Therefore, there are a lot of talking in this book. The premise of the story was fascinating enough for me to choose it as my next-in-line to read list. What would you personally have done if you were in the main character’s shoes after having been gifted with something that not even the emperor himself was able to obtain?
While I don’t really follow the works of the author all that much, I do realize that I have read his other works before and know one thing about him: he was born with a gift to write and tell stories. Under Heaven flows nicely chapter after chapter. It does start off very slow though. And it stays that way mostly throughout the book with certain set pieces bringing more action and drama to the table. But for the most part, Under Heaven is not what you would consider an “action packed” story. It does get a lot better towards the middle section. The most disappointing part I find with Under Heaven is how the ending felt so rushed. It felt hastily put together as if the author realized that he’s written too much and now has to conclude things. It was also the way he did it too that got on my nerves a bit. While we do get the idea that there are some parts sprinkled in where the story is told from a third person point of view, it felt as if the author exploited this fact towards the ending and used it to wrap things up.
For the most part, characters in Under Heaven is fairly standard stuff. It didn’t seem as if the author wanted some of them to be likable or unlikable. Rather, it felt as if the characters were just “there”. I do love it when authors break away from the main characters at certain times and take the time to tell the story through the eyes of a minor character instead. Whether or not this minor character will play a big role or die in the very next chapter is of no concern to me. It keeps the pacing fresh as it takes a break away from the main protagonists. I did wish the author would have done more of this in Under Heaven. With how many people are involved here, it would have been awesome if he inserted more of these “short stories” intermixed here and there.
As said in the beginning, Under Heaven is a pretty good read if you’re into dialogue heavy stories. There’s pretty much only a small part in here that can truly be considered fantasy. I’m pretty ignorant when it comes to ancient China history but every time that I do read about it, whether fiction or non-fiction, there’s just always something there that I find so fascinating and I think it’s that factor that makes Under Heaven that much more enjoyable for me to read, personally.