Tianxia (Under Heaven) is the Chinese word to define everything under the sky and under the rule of the emperor, a power assigned by the gods.
“Under Heaven” by Guy Gavriel Kay is not an historical novel, but a fictional construction of a plausible past of the Chinese empire recalling traditions, culture and behaviors of the time and so trying (successfully) to make the unreal as real.
It’s a novel I definitely suggest, both for the plot, well-conceived, complex and well told, both for the refined use of language.
“The world could bring you poison in a jewelled cup, or surprising gifts. Sometimes you didn’t know which of them it was.”
Everything begins with a gift of 250 Sardian horses to Shen Tai, as gratitude for his dedication in burying the dead at Kuala Nor. The horses are a precious gift, for their inner quality and for their potential usefulness in the empire management.
Tai will begin his return to the capital with various purpose: the horses of course, but also the need to find who paid assassins to kill him and why.
The main plot intersects with the story of other characters, and this helps in providing a complex overlook to the political intrigues at the vertex of the empire itself.
The author was able to build an extremely believable Chinese empire setting – so much that it appears an historical truth – on various level, in particular behaviors and in the apparently mundane dialogues but rich in meaning and potentially lethal consequences.
The characters are well depicted, I liked mostly the women described, every one of them memorable in thoughts and actions.
“Under Heaven” isn’t a predictable novel, instead its developmend – and its conclusions – are not comforting but willing to trace a potential historical event being in truth only a work of fiction.
* Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay – ★★★★☆½
*I read this book in English