I’ve read all but two of Kay’s novels (and you can be sure that I will be reading them soon) and have enjoyed them all. But his latest novel, Under Heaven, is, for me, the best. It is set in ancient China, taking the Tang dynasty (900-1200) for a model. Shen Tai, second son of a deceased general, has determined that, to honor his father during the two-year period of mourning, he will remain at Luongo Nor to bury the dead soldiers littering the battlefield and lay their ghosts. The White Princess of the neighboring country learns of this and gifts him with 250 Sardian horses. This makes Tai a very powerful man in Kitai (China).
We follow Tai as someone attempts to assassinate him, as he travels toward the capitol to present the horses to the emperor. Several more attempts are made on his life. A warrior woman, Wei Song, has been hired to protect him. He longs to see a woman courtesan he knew, but she has become the consort of the first minister. An Li, general and governor of several provinces in the north of Kitai, rebels and war ensues. This is a long novel, nearly 600 pages, filled with action, intrigue, wonderful well-rounded characters. It holds, perhaps, a hint of how life was lived in that far off time in China.
Kay seems never to write about the same period or place twice. I would like it very much if he were to write another novel set in the same time and place as this one. There are minor characters that could well be developed into major characters. But perhaps that is asking too much. I will be grateful for whatever he writes next. Alas, that is probably several years away. Meantime, if you have the slightest interest, I recommend this book, or any of Kay’s, quite highly.