Monday, May 31, 2010

40. Under Heaven

By:  Guy Gavrriel Kay
Rated 4.8 Stars
From:  Beth

FINALLY finished this wonderful book. It took me over a week to read it. Thank you Beth for loaning it to me. Shaun and I both read it and loved it.  We handled it tenderly and I will send it back later this week.  Probably Friday.

But it wasn't the kind of book either of us could zip through.  Since we have very similar views of it when I say we I am not using the royal we but speaking for us both.  WE loved, loved, loved the way it started out. But when it got into court politics both of us were reminded a little of Shogun.  That was kind of unfortunate because no book does all that well if you start thinking about Shogun. But poor, poor Shen Tai.  What a curse those horses were.  As if navigating thru his life wasn't complicated enough.   It was such a shame he wasn't ever able to bury all those warriors.  I found that very sad.  It was a great adventure though.

Description and review  copied with permission from Bookflurries by my good friend Connie, aka cfk 

The setting is the Ninth Dynasty of China with created characters and situations by Kay that ring true. I had recently written here about the Silk Road and that appears in the story. One of the themes of the story is that history is written later by people who maybe don’t find all the parts of the pattern. The people who will loom large in the historical record are not so large at first and so their activities are not written down to be gathered up by historians. That is where the story teller comes in. The storyteller recreates the story and finds the beginnings and makes a whole tapestry on the loom.

Shen Tai is a second son. He is not important in a world where many have completed their imperial examinations which he has not. He is voiceless. His father has taught all three of his children, "Who accepts the world only as it comes to them?" including Tai's sister, Shen Li-Mei. This makes all the difference in their lives as they choose to shape the world rather than remain voiceless.

Another theme is the idea that as we make choices or have choices made for us, the road of our life forks. That seems obvious, but when it involves several characters that we care about, it hits home more than having it just written down in one small phrase.

The story, based on the Tang Dynasty, includes the tribes north of The Great Wall where the term Under Heaven is more easily grasped. There the grasslands go on forever beneath the endless sky.

There is the capital city of two million souls, there is the palace of the Emperor, there are gardens and mountain passes. There are emperors and beggars, courtesans and first ministers. There is also a poet, the Banished Immortal. Kay says this man is based on Li Bai also known as Li Po. There are the men and women who seek to advance at any cost, generals and governors. There are Sardian horses from the West of great beauty that are desired at any cost. There are Kanlin guards who are trusted by all to protect and carry messages. There is a great sorrow and the song about it is written much later by a younger poet than Li Bai.

What makes a book one that fits me? I have been thinking why Under Heaven was such a perfect fit. First, it is a great adventure story. Second, I cared about the characters and could not lay the book down as I wanted to see what happened to them.

The story also was based on the giant, sprawling background setting of China’s Tang Dynasty which aroused my curiosity. I don’t know much about China so it was a pleasure to see it come alive on the pages of the book. I was taken to and through the Wall, I rode on the grasslands and saw the cave painting of horses. I watched the dangerous game played by the imperial men and women of the court. I wanted to learn more about the time and the people and the great poet.

There is lots of real danger and courage, a bit of romance, and a bit of fantasy with the Shamen of the grasslands and the man who walks with wolves. It is a wonderful book. It suited me. Thank you, Mr. Kay.