Under HeavenUnder Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is not a book that I liked. This is a book where I could smell the dust of the road, hear the music in the pleasure house, and acutely feel the joy, anger, sorrow, confusion, and fear of the very complex characters. There are no happy endings in the beautiful and edifying prose. There is only life: real nitty-gritty and complex life. If you can’t handle that then you should move on to the next book.

What I loved most: the writing. It was beautiful. It was lyrical. It immediately transported me back hundreds of years to a time and a place all but foreign to me. The historical nuisances were accurate. The world unfolded flawlessly from nodding to the Warring States era without falling victim to it or insulting it. However uncomfortable or passionate a scene may have felt: it felt real. You could taste the food and hear the arguments as if you were there. The writing was entrancing.

Why sir, it is true: on the shores of Kuala Nor
White bones have lain for many years.
No one has gathered them. The new ghosts
Are bitter and angry, the old ghosts weep.
Under the rain and within the circle of mountains
The air is full of their cries.

The story opens with a young man honoring his father’s passing by burying the bones of a battle his father spoke ill of. Thousands of bones lay in a valley: both his country men and his enemies. He does not differentiate. He buries them both. Such a great task in such a haunted place has brought him respect and honor from both lands. It is this honor that leads to his danger…and his salvation.

There were too many. It was beyond hope to ever finish this: it was a task for gods descending from the nine heavens, not for one man. But if you couldn’t do everything, did that mean you did nothing?

Carrying a message for the emperor, our hero must cross an empire with assassins and political intrigue nipping at his heals. The deeper he travels into the cesspool of power and greed, the less he believes he belongs to that world at all. He gains allies to help in a world he cannot understand as the women in his world find something in him worth protecting.

It had been written by one teacher in the time of the First Dynasty, more than nine hundred years ago, that when a man was brought back alive from the tall doors of death, from the brink of crossing over to the dark, he had a burden laid upon him ever after: to conduct his granted life in such a manner as to be worthy of that return.

As the story unfolds, we learn how closely past decisions are tied to present fates. How family is not immune from betrayal. How jealousy can fell empires. How the future is a fluid thing never settling for what already is. It takes more bravery than we know to face such an uncertain future, but more still to face our own pasts.

Folk tales and legends are what we move away from when the adult world claims our life, she thinks

As he makes it to the capital, war and ruin threaten to tear apart his country. Will his message be enough to save the empire? Can he brave his own betrayals to find the strength to do what is necessary even if it is not fully right? Or will the country be torn asunder by machinations? An epic fantasy of war and family, this tale is one that will stay with you far longer than the last word read.

Locusts crossing ruined fields,
When choosing a bow choose a strong one,
If you shoot an arrow shoot a long one,
To capture the enemy capture their leader,
But carry within you the knowledge
That war is brought to bring peace.
And it is always difficult, even with the best will in the world, to look back a long way and see anything resembling the truth.