I was tricked into reading a fantasy book. Under Heaven, by Guy Gavriel Kay, sports one of Newport Library’s distinctive purple dragon genre labels on the spine. Yet the blurb inside the jacket cover reads more like historical fiction. I’m not into dragons, but I was curious.
In an alternate Tang Dynasty China, Shen Tai honors his dead father, a famous general, by burying the scattered bones of slaughtered soldiers who fought at a remote mountain battlefield. In gratitude for this two-year long selfless act, the enemy Taguran kingdom gives him a gift of incalculable value: 250 Sardian horses.
Wending his way back to the capital Xinan, Shen Tai must navigate the slippery slope of a court political scene more treacherous than any high mountain trail. Why has Spring Rain, a courtesan and old friend, sent out a Kanlin warrior women to protect him? And how has Shen’s older brother suddenly become an advisor to the new chief minister Wen Zhou, who has taken Spring Rain as his concubine? What will Shen Tai do with the horses, and to what lengths will others go to take them away from him?
These political and moral questions are embroidered within a classical Chinese aesthetic. Aside from a little ghostly magic that saves Shen’s life early on, Under Heaven reads more like an elegantly staged political thriller than a woo-woo fantasy novel. And not a wizard, witch or warlock in sight. And best of all: no dragons! I’m liking it.
You can reserve Under Heaven here.