Monday, 15 March 2010

I’ve never read anything by...

Guy Gavriel Kay. I’m as surprised as you are seeing as he’s an author seemingly universally loved by anyone who’s into fantasy fiction but there you go. As shallow a reason as it is, I’ll confess to not being too impressed by some of the cover art (a long time ago now) and never got round to picking his work up.



All that’s about to change though. In keeping with my resolution to read new stuff I rescued my advance copy of ‘Under Heaven’ (from one of the many boxes lying around the house at the moment) and will be reading it whenever I can get away from cleaning and unpacking etc. It appears to be a standalone work and that seems like as good a place as any to get started. Here’s the blurb...

It begins simply. Shen Tai, son of an illustrious general serving the Emperor of Kitai, has spent two years honoring the memory of his late father by burying the bones of the dead from both armies at the site of one of his father's last great battles. In recognition of his labors and his filial piety, an unlikely source has sent him a dangerous gift: 250 Sardian horses.

You give a man one of the famed Sardian horses to reward him greatly. You give him four or five to exalt him above his fellows, propel him towards rank, and earn him jealousy, possibly mortal jealousy. Two hundred and fifty is an unthinkable gift, a gift to overwhelm an emperor.

Wisely, the gift comes with the stipulation that Tai must claim the horses in person. Otherwise he would probably be dead already...


Reading time has been severely curtailed of late but it looks like that will be changing imminently. Emergency surgery on Friday night has resulted in two weeks off work so plenty of time for reading (not sure what all this is going to do to my blogging schedule though, please bear with me!) Keep an eye out for a review of ‘Under Heaven’ hopefully very soon.



In the meantime though, I’d like to hear what your experiences of Kay’s work have been like. Are you a fan or did you give him a try and think, ‘never again...’? Does Kay only write historical fantasy or does he write regular fantasy as well? Is ‘Under Heaven’ a fair enough place to begin or is there a ‘classic’ work of his that you think any newcomer of his should pick up first? If ‘Under Heaven’ works for me I can see myself finding more of his books to read so all comments are very welcome! :o)

17 comments:

SciFiGuy said...

Graeme he most definitely writes regular fantasy and you couldn't do any better than starting with his earliest work The Fionavar Tapestry trilogy (The Summer Tree, The Wandering Fire and The Darkest Road). And like fine wine, he improves with age.

Imaginary Lands said...

I picked up The Summer Tree, and didn't find it engaging enough to continue, though my bff loved it to bits. I don't generally like "normal Earth people transported to a fantasy land" type of stories and was immediately turned off.

But I hear his other series' may be more interesting. Shrugs. But I have so many other authors to explore ...

Maybe one day ...

WonderBunny said...

I too haven't read anything by Guy Gavriel Kay. Might need to pick something up. I'm not sure if I would pick up his earliest stuff though. I'd rather go right to the good stuff.

Kat @ FanLit said...

Graeme,
I absolutely loved Tigana and A Song for Arbonne. I did not particularly like The Summer Tree (seemed too derivative).

Two of our reviewers have read and report that they really enjoyed Under Heaven.

Kat

Khaled said...

Hey Graeme,
I'm a GGK fan. Read of his books, and have a handful of others on the TBR pile. His hallmarks, IMHO, are complex/multi-faceted characters and interesting scenarios set in a historical background.

-I read 'Lions of Al-Rassan' first -- liked it a lot, set in a world analogous to the twilight of Muslim Spain.
-Then, 'Tigana' - very interesting premise, emotional read, great book. Touches on issues of roots/culture/identity.
-Then 'A song for Arbonne' -- Out of the 4 Kay books I read, I liked this one the most. Don't remember why though...
-The most recent one I read was "Last Light of the Sun'-- good but for me not as gripping as the other ones. I will say that, though, that as a father, this book had the strongest emotional scenes for me.

anyways, sorry for the long post. I've got a while to wait for 'Under Heaven',
-Khaled

Aishwarya said...

From what I hear (since I've only read four of his books), Kay's style varies wildly from book to book. While I quite enjoyed Tigana (and am told I'd likely love Lions of Al-rassan) I absolutely loathed the Fionavar Tapestry. Yet I recently picked up Ysabel and am expecting to enjoy it.

pacamanca said...

I absolutely love the Fionavar Tapestry and re-read it again from time to time. The Lions of Al-Rassan is awesome; so is Tigana. I didn't like A Song for Arbonne when I first read it but I've been meaning to re-read it for a while now. I have Ysabel in my bookshelf but still haven't given it a try (last year was spent reading Temeraire and A Song of Ice and Fire whenever I wasn't busy with my little baby).

Curious to hear your opinion on his latest book :)

Harry Markov said...

I have the Sarantine Mosaic, which did not impress me much. It reads like alternative historical with an accuracy and realism, which did not appeal me, but that was a few years ago, so I hope that my taste has grown to accept his methodology.

Jonathan said...

The Fionavar Tapestry is very Tolkienesque, while everything afterward is not. In fact compared to the later work it seems very derivative of Tolkien. I'd start with Lions of Al-Rassan or the first book of the Sarantine Mosaic duo, or Last Light of the Sun (Vikings and Celts - fun!). But his work is subtle, literary, and more about characters in the middle of historic "moments" and the way their actions are shaped by their personalities, than your traditional fantasy saga. Can't wait for the new one

Val said...

I love Kay's historical fantasy, The Lions of Al-Rassan in particular, so I am very much looking forward to this title.

Jeff said...

You just have to skip his Fionarvar Tapestry stuff. It is OK, but not great. Start with Tigana or my favorite The Lions of Al Rasan. Both excellent reads. The Sarantine Mosaic are both excellent, but I thought Last Light and Ysabel were weaker than his usual high standard.

I am planning on buying this one when it is available.

Enjoy, Jeff

Hagelrat said...

Graeme, reading Eagle Rising, dude you got seriously killed! love it.

Iain said...

Three books -- Tigana, A Song for Arbonne and The lions of Al-Rassan. Quite simply, they are awesome.

The Fionavar Tapestry is a very enjoyable trilogy. He wrote it after working with Christopher Tolkien on The Silmarrillion and it shows. The books are classic fantasy -- complete with dwarves, mighty wizards, dark lords and elves. What more could you want??

Under Heaven's blurb is mouthwatering.

macfantasie said...

My first Guy Gavriel Kay novel will be 'Tigana,' which I recently purchased -- and should be starting within the next several weeks -- so I'm right there with you.

I've heard nothing but great things, and am really excited to finally be able to give his books a try as well. Hope you end up enjoying the book.

Ms. Laura said...

I have read everything of his with the exception of Ysabel, and have enjoyed it all, though some more than others. I read the Fionavar Tapestry as one book, and I admit that at the time I chose it as my one book to take on vacation. I enjoyed it a lot, and though it has some tolkienesque undertones, it is different.
I have enjoyed his stand alone works a lot, Tigana and A Song for Arbonne are my favourites.
Its a bonus that he's Canadian! I've met him at a couple of book signings in town, and he's very nice.

Reuben said...

The Sarantine Mosaic was a bit slow moving but excellent, and I found the Fionavar Tapestry a little more accessible as it's a bit more mainstream fantasy, I would suggest starting there.

Maurice said...

GGK edited the Silmarillion with Christopher Tolkien, which is why there is a very strong influence of Tolkien's works in his first three novels, so if you are into Tolkien then these would be a good start.

I read his books years ago around the time I discovered GRRM and I was blown away by Tigana, The Lions of Al-Rassan and the Sarantine Mosaic.

I think GGK has achieved with his characters what Steven Erikson did with his world building, in that the characters have a lot of depth and feel well thought out and researched.

I struggled through The Last Light of the Sun. I just found it lazy and lifeless and since I love Chinese culture I'm interested in Under Heaven, but then you will just have to take a risk and see if it is any good.