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Under Heaven

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Under Heaven (2010) Guy Gavriel Kay

With bronze as a mirror one can correct one’s
appearance; with history as a mirror, one can
understand the rise and fall of a state; with good
men as a mirror, one can distinguish right from wrong.
—LI SHIMIN, TANG EMPEROR TAIZONG

Guy Gavriel Kay’s writing is always epic, and not in that overused way, but in telling stories that span across a world almost, but not quite, ours. Although they occur in places that never existed, they are based (with a great deal of research) on times and places in history.

The start of this story has always stuck with me.

Shen Tai has spent two years of his mourning period for his father burying the dead of Kuala Nor.

But for General Shen Gao, the memory of the fighting here had been, until he’d died two years ago, a source of pride and sorrow intermingled, marking him forever after.

Too many men had lost their lives for a lake on the border of nowhere, one that would not, in the event, be held by either empire.

Shan is quickly supported by soldiers from both sides, who bring him supplies and help him so survive.

He’d tried to stop this, but hadn’t come close to persuading anyone, and eventually he’d understood: it wasn’t about kindness to the madman, or even entirely about besting each other. The less time he spent on food, firewood, maintaining the cabin, the more he could devote to his task, which no one had ever done before, and which seemed— once they’d accepted why he was here— to matter to the Tagurans as much as to his own people.

You can see why that might stick with one.

But it’s not just about Tai. It’s also about his brother, who has become advisor to the Prime Minister, and the courtesan Tai once cared for who the prime minister has taken into his house, and the Minister of War, and Tai’s younger sister.

“Who chooses their fate?” It is the third one, the tallest. “Who asks to be born into the times that are theirs?”

“Well, who accepts the world only as it comes to them?” she says.

So many stories, each complex and each relating back to the others in complicated ways.

As always, this is a story to be read slowly, to be pondered. I love his writing, but I do have to be in the mood for it. It’s not a distraction the way many of the books I love are, but the building of a world so very like our own that we are familiar with it.

And so many parts of the story are heartbreaking, just as in real life.

The poet was a quiet, comforting presence. It felt illicit, somehow, to take comfort in anything tonight.

Were two years any time at all?

For human beings they were. Two years could change the world. For stones, for trees growing leaves in spring, dropping them in autumn, two years were inconsequential. A stone in a pond makes ripples, the ripples are gone, nothing remains.

As I said, this is not a book to be gupled down as a distraction. It is something to be read and savored. For me, these books are something I have to be in the mood for, but once I am, they are always incredibly rewarding.
Rating: 9/10

Published by Ace

Categories: 9/10, Fantasy, Historical, Re-Read     Comments (0)    



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