Under Heaven (Under Heaven, #1) by Guy Gavriel Kay

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Hello! Apologies this is a week late, life is hard. A paperback copy of Under Heaven my father bequeathed me was one of the books I brought with me when my boyfriend and I went to Portugal for two weeks in January. The book was published in 2010 by Harper Voyager, at a lovely 573 papers.

The synopsis on goodreads doesn’t give a lot of information. The protagonist, Shen Tai, is a young man who receives a gift from a princess of Kitai. This gift is 250 Sardian horses, beautiful strong horses difficult to get in Kitai. This sets Shen Tai on a journey to claim the horses and bring them to the emperor, all while his life hangs in the balance.

Review sans spoilers

The book is far more complicated and nuanced then neither the good reads synopsis nor mine can give credit for. Simply put, the book is exquisite. Guy Gavriel Kay is a phenomenal author; his writing leaves you captivated as he lays out this incredibly interesting and unique story. Although I’m usually impartial to fantasy based off of history, the usage of Chinese history and culture is beautiful. You simply cannot stop reading. It is the kind of book that you fully immerse yourself in, and find it difficult to get back into reality. A mix of humour, sorrow, drama, and intensity beautifully intertwined. I truly have nothing bad to say about this book. Also, Canadian author!

I give this book a 9.5/10. Yes, I know I said I was totally in love with it, but is it a book I want to read over and over again and never leave? Close, but not quite.

Review with spoilers

Things I liked – I found the main character to be wonderful. Kay did a beautiful job of weaving in philosophical and poetic themes that lent the character – and all of the writing – this ethereal feeling. Shen Tai is extremely intelligent, and has a deeply interesting personality. I loved the different characters and their POVs, and the different landscapes and people you encounter in this book. Truly, I loved everything.

Things I didn’t like as much – I’m not entirely sure there was anything I didn’t like. Honestly. I also read it a month ago and didn’t give myself super in-depth notes, so that may contribute.


Read the book. If I could recommend any Guy Gavriel Kay book, it would be this one. I also really enjoyed Ysabel, which has a similarly entrancing, dream-like style (and aside from being historical fiction, is entirely different).

Started reading: January 5, 2020

Finished reading: January 14, 2020

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