Top positive review
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Subtle, enthralling and captivating - Guy Gavriel Kay's best yet?
on 5 August 2013
This book, as is Under Heaven, is a re-imagining of China in the past. I'm afraid I don't know enough about Chinese history to be able to identify which period is being re-imagined, not that it matters at all. The action has moved forward by about three hundred years, and apart from odd mentions in the narrative of people or events that happened in the first book, there is no close connection between the two.
It is a huge book and a huge and magnificent story which interweaves various separate story strands until they all come together in a magnificent and possibly ambiguous finale. The background is the manoeuvring of the power factions around the now weakened and decadent Kitai. In the war that followed the action of Under Heaven, fourteen prefectures were lost to the Xiaolu empire, barbarians from the Steppes, themselves now under threat from another tribe of horsemen, the Altai.
The major characters are Ren Daiyan, a village boy from Shengdu, Lin Shan, daughter of a scholar who has been educated beyond the usual levels for a girl, Lu, a poet who tells the truth, the Emperor and his politicians who vie with each other for cunning and ruthlessness.
Life in Kitai is precarious and cheap. If you make a mistake you pay with your life. If information is required from you, the likelihood is that you will die under interrogation. Equally, if you manage to guess right, the rewards are great, though you might not keep them long. There is a lot of death in this book, but I would not call it violent as such, because it is not dwelt upon and we adopt the values of Kitai society.
This is not a book you can read quickly. Take your time and relish the detail and subtlety that Guy Gavriel Kay has created. It is possibly his best book to date, but I would have to reread the others to make sure and that would take a very long time. If you don't know his work, what pleasure awaits you.