Sunday, September 4, 2011

Under Heaven, by Guy Gavriel Kay

Continuing my reading of this year's World Fantasy Award nominees, I bit off a substantial chunk and read Guy Gavriel Kay's Under Heaven.  Asia is such a huge place, it should have a lot of material to be explored for fantasy.  And I'm sure it does.  Not as sure that I really got a good look here.  The novel starts out with promising fantasy material--the protagonist spends two years putting ghosts to rest by burying their remains at a haunted battleground.  He does it to honor his dead father, though it is never really clear why he chose this way.  Even to himself.  And the consequences of the deed are momentous for him, and probably the whole of China (Kitan, in the book).  He is given an impossibly large gift, which throws the court into a spin.  The theme throughout is that of a relatively simple (though learned, and not innocent) man trying to handle himself in a powerful empire's court.

There is action, physical and sexual, but the real point is the intrigue.  Because of this, the book often reads as slow.  And I struggled to read the ending, as there wasn't a lot of suspense.  The novel is historical, so the ending is known and telegraphed.  It's decent, but I wouldn't say it is a leading contender.  Still waiting for that one.  So far it's close between Nnedi Okorafor's Who Fears Death and N. K. Jemisin's The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, which was wild fun.

Three stars for this one.

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