In his critically acclaimed novel Under Heaven, Guy Gavriel Kay told a vivid and powerful story inspired by China’s Tang Dynasty. Now, the international best-selling and multiple award-winning author revisits that invented setting four centuries later with an epic of prideful emperors, battling courtiers, bandits and soldiers, nomadic invasions, and a woman battling in her own way, to find a new place for women in the world - a world inspired this time by the glittering, decadent Song Dynasty.
Ren Daiyan was still just a boy when he took the lives of seven men while guarding an imperial magistrate of Kitai. That moment on a lonely road changed his life...in entirely unexpected ways, sending him into the forests of Kitai among the outlaws. From there he emerges years later - and his life changes again, dramatically, as he circles toward the court and emperor, while war approaches Kitai from the north.
Lin Shan is the daughter of a scholar, his beloved only child. Educated by him in ways young women never are, gifted as a songwriter and calligrapher, she finds herself living a life suspended between two worlds. Her intelligence captivates an emperor - and alienates women at the court. But when her father’s life is endangered by the savage politics of the day, Shan must act in ways no woman ever has.
In an empire divided by bitter factions circling an exquisitely cultured emperor who loves his gardens and his art far more than the burdens of governing, dramatic events on the northern steppe alter the balance of power in the world, leading to events no one could have foretold, under the river of stars.
10 Best Audiobooks of 2013 (Salon)"One of the greatest audiobook narrators ever, Vance brings his perfect timing and feather-touch sensitivity to Kay's epic story set in a invented empire based on Tang Dynasty China. Vance's many fans may be best situated to appreciate the subtle ways he modulates his voice for each book he reads. In this case, Kay invokes a world of stylized manners and deadly gambits, infused with an aesthetic founded on the most exquisite appreciation of the beauty and melancholy of the natural world. One of Vance's fortes is conveying understated irony, and it serves him very well here. He acquits himself especially well with Kay's landscape descriptions, so evocative you feel you’re breathing the autumn mist as it rises from the bamboo groves." (Laura Miller, Salon)
"From whatever angle you approach it, River of Stars is a major accomplishment, the work of a master novelist in full command of his subject. It deserves the largest possible audience” (Washington Post)
"Kay has the uncanny ability to depict the grand sweep of historical events through the eyes of those living through them…What’s even more amazing is how through his careful rendering of character and environments we are drawn into this history…River of Stars is an exceptional piece of work." (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
“Vance's skill with long passages of description and explication is put to good use here. His tone is nostalgic and introspective…” (AudioFile)
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A genuine masterpiece
The private interview between the hero and the prime minister
The heroine meets the poet.
I would not rename it.
"River of Stars" is a masterpiece. Because Kay writes historical fantasies, I doubt that he will gain the recognition he deserves as a truly great novelist. This work is a tapestry of richly individual characters, clashing cultures, battles and complex motives, all with an overarching theme of the place of the individual, both famous and unknown, in the process of history. I am reminded of Tolstoy, more than any other writer. but Tolstoy without the ridiculous lectures about freemasonry, and with a consistently gripping sequence of events. Let those who think I am overstating the case read the book, or listen to it.
- David H. Diamond
Kay is a great writer, but there's a pattern...
No. It's the ending. There's only so much frustration and anti-climax I will willingly endure.
Ren Daiyan, the main protagonist. Yes, he's a "man of destiny," but I never feel like that's a plot crutch. He's a delight to follow because of his combination of drive, cleverness, humor, and creativity--an extraordinary individual in a world that has embraced mediocrity as a prime virtue.
Oh, Vance is top-notch, as always. Hard to distinguish any one character performance as better than another.
(Part of the disadvantage of audio books is that it's tricky to look up character names... and it's been a while since I listened.) There is a scene where the home of our protagonist's friends and loved ones comes under attack during a greater war. Without spoilers, the events that unfold are extremely powerful and poignant.
Kay is an amazingly gifted writer and willing to do unconventional things with his storytelling, and I love that. He creates a deep sense of immersion in an ancient and unfamiliar world, and everything flows seamlessly. I'm sometimes surprised that he is not more widely recognized for his mastery of the craft.
Perhaps it's because of his endings. I haven't read all of Kay's writings, but from what I have seen he likes a particular structure. He builds you up for an outcome with tremendous promise and possibility, only to pull it all down by the end and make you watch it all crumble. He certainly did the same thing with "The Sarantine Mosaic" books. In the end, beauty and vision fall beneath the weight of pettiness and mediocrity, and the characters you've come to love have to scrape what solace they can out of the wreckage of all their lost dreams.
A pessimist might call that "realism." I call it fatalism. And as much as I love pretty much everything else about Kay's writing, I'm hesitant about picking up another of his books.
NOTE for fans of "Under Heaven." It's fair to say that "Under Heaven" and "River of Stars" are two books in the same series, albeit separated by hundreds of years. "Under Heaven" did not end as such a downer, I thought, and I quite enjoyed that book. Unfortunately, what we see in "River of Stars" is that the long-term consequences of the events from "Under Heaven" have basically wrecked the world we came to know, leaving it a pale shadow of its former glory. In that sense, it's like the miserable ending of "Under Heaven" was deferred to "River of Stars." You might be better off stopping with "Under Heaven." I sort of wish I had.