Posts Tagged ‘Under Heaven’


In Stores: Guy Gavriel Kay’s ‘Under Heaven’

April 27, 2010

If you’re one of the many anxious readers that have been anticipating Guy Gavriel Kay’s newest book, Under Heaven, then wait no more as you can finally run down to your local bookstore and pick it up today! And judging by the first quarter of the book that I’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy, and the amount of positive word of mouth it’s received, it’s one you’re not going to want to miss. More than that, it needs to jump to the top of that “to read” pile I know you’ve got!

But whether or not you’ve picked up your copy just yet, you’ll have to take a moment and and check out GGK’s latest essay at where he takes us on a journey into the genesis of Under Heaven and how, for example, the Tang Dynasty of 8th century China influences its setting (and what a setting it is) :

What followed, as I began preparing myself in 2007 for what to do next, was a return to the ‘eastern book’. But something had changed. After those intervening years I somehow found myself more urgently moving towards China itself—treated with my own ‘quarter turn’ towards the fantastic, as one reviewer has described what I do.

The novel which became Under Heaven, was no longer a Silk Road book. Now, as I read and made notes and corresponded with scholars around the world, the new book was going to be inspired by and anchored in the glittering, glorious, sophisticated, violently dangerous Tang Dynasty of the 8th century. One of the absolute high points of civilization—anywhere.

Refer to the essay in full after the jump.

And enjoy the book (look for my own review soon)!


Under Heaven: To Kuala Nor

April 7, 2010

When I started the blog, I wanted it to be a place where I didn’t just post news bits, and reviews upon finishing a book, but a place where I could also discuss some of my thoughts on what I was reading at the time. I haven’t been able to do that as much as I would have liked so far, but dang if I’m not going to try. Reading is a very personal experience for me and — for good or bad — I have to involve and immerse myself in what I’m reading or there’s little point in my mind for spending time with a book. From time to time, then, I’ll share what I’m thinking about a book here prior to finishing and I hope you’ll get something out of it. As always, feel free to chime in.

[Minor Spoilers Ahead] Fortunately, where the first chapter of Guy Gavriel Kay’s Under Heaven is concerned, I’m certainly having no problem immersing myself in the story, what with the lead character’s worthy,  self-induced, act of mourning compelling me forward and with prose like this:

In silver light he looked over at his low writing table, the ink-block and paper, the woven mat in front of it. His swords were against the wall beside it. The scent of the pine trees came through the open windows with the night wind. Cicadas whirring, a duet with the dead.

He had come to Kuala Nor on impulse, to honour his father’s sorrow. He had stayed for himself just as much, working every day to offer what release he could to however small a number of those unburied here. One man’s labour, not an immortal, not holy.

The imagery here, and throughout the chapter, is extremely expressive and beautifully so as he brings to life the fantastical Asian tone and setting of Kuala Nor and the surrounding lands. And as I made note of in my last post on the book, here again our “solitary fool” makes mention of the fact that he is not holy, despite the very admirable actions he is undertaking as the novel opens. Granted, it may very well be the case that Tai is not a holy man, but I cannot help but see the admission as evidence of humility rather than an  indictment of the kind of person he is — or thinks he is (perhaps being unable or unwilling to recognize this humility himself).

Shen Tai has been at the business of burying the dead for two years time now at the site of his father’s last battle. There, digging resting places for the bones of fallen warriors on both sides in the harshest of conditions as way of honoring his father and the ghosts that have wailed so many nights awaiting rest. As the chapter, and as his formal period of mourning draws to a close, Tai is presented a gift nearly beyond measure for his service to the dead, as recognized by the opposing army. The gift is of a caliber that he cannot fathom and how this “gift” effects him, I suspect, will have much to do with how the proceeding chapters play out as Kay brings it home ominously in the chapter’s final lines:

The world could bring you poison in a jeweled cup, or surprising gifts. Sometimes you didn’t know which of them it was.

In passing, I also got a kick out of Tai’s passing comment on shaving one morning before he departs out into the cold. Looking in the mirror he ponders a quick shave, but dismisses the thought after “deciding against such self-abuse.” How many times have I had similar thoughts? Just a fun aside, but it’s one of the many small details that I’m enjoying so far about the book, and one of the many insights we’re given about Tai’s sojourn. It’s a very impressive start and I can’t wait to see how the next chapter plays out. Stay tuned for more.


Under Heaven, Chapter One by Guy Gavriel Kay

March 17, 2010

As far as I’m concerned, this is how marketing a book is done. Penguin Group (Canada) has done an amazing job putting together a fully functional website chock full of goodies in order to promote Guy Gavriel Kay’s newest work, Under Heaven. So, please, do yourself a favor and check out all that they have to offer, from wallpapers to bookmarks, and including a number of beautiful music files by the internationally acclaimed Liu Fang featuring traditional Chinese Pipa music, an inspiration for Under Heaven in fact.

Talk about style and substance:

In his first year the lake froze, he could walk across to the isle for a few weeks. The second winter was milder and it did not freeze over. Muffled in furs then, hooded and gloved in a white, hollow stillness, seeing the puffs of his mortal breath, feeling small against the towering, hostile vastness all around, Tai took the boat out on days when waves and weather allowed. He offered the dead to the dark waters with a prayer, that they might not lie lost any longer, unconsecrated on wind-scoured ground here by Kuala Nor’s cold shore, among the wild animals and far from any home.

Under Heaven Chapter One .pdf download

Incidentally, I thought the humility of the principle character in the introductory chapter was very impressive, if I caught that sliver of insight into his character correctly. It may very well be that Tai is not a devout man, or even a good one, but I get the impression that his informing the reader of the fact, in light of the honorable work he appears to be doing and the reverence he pays his family, is more a sign of deep humility than an indication that we actually take him at his word. Thought that was rather cool in such a short introduction, alongside the haunting atmosphere as a whole that I found very refreshing in the prose.

Consider it pre-ordered.