The story begins with Shen Tai--the son of a war general--burying the dead, living by a battlefield. As his supplies are delivered to him, he receives a message: He has been gifted 250 rare Sardian horses. This is a life-changing event, and it could also be a dangerous one. The horses are extremely valuable. After two years spent burying the dead, he leaves his cabin to go back towards the capital.
Kay certainly has a way with words. It's a lyrical style. There's a lot of imagery. It's fairly challenging reading, but it's also very rewarding. At least, it was for me. The writing shifts between exposition and narrative. The narrative voice changes to reflect the viewpoint. There are a few main viewpoints, but it also goes to minor characters to set the stage. It is consistently written with a lot of skill and perceptiveness.
One thing that really stood out to me was how Kay's writing gets you thinking. In this book, the writing strikes a balance between showing and telling. It is very good storytelling. I really liked the narration, and it kept me engaged with the work and deciphering the nuances of it.
Here are some noteworthy points about Under Heaven:
- The "Principal Characters" page and the map. These deserve a mention because they are nice to have, particularly at the beginning.
- It has a cinematic quality to it. Sometimes a chapter becomes more of a scene. It comes to life.
- The interplay of differently stylized passages. There are different styles for different characters or themes. It works.
- Finally, the simultaneous interweaving of narrative and history. I thought it was very well done.