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The second chapter in the history of the ancient China-inspired empire of Kitai is exquisitely rendered alternate historical fantasy. Several hundred years after the events of Under Heaven (which was set in the equivalent of the Tang Dynasty), teen Ren Daiyan demonstrates legend-level archery prowess and becomes a marsh outlaw. Years later, when a cloistered emperor's hobby begins destroying lives, Daiyan tries to redeem his honor by joining the imperial army to halt the empire's decline. In a world ruled by gentleman scholars, female artist Lin Shan is lauded for her unique talent in the masculine arts of poetry and calligraphy. Shan's courtly skills will prove vital to Daiyan as he navigates around scheming ministers, supernatural fox-women, and horsemen who drink from the skulls of their enemies. Students of Chinese literature will delight in allusions to Song Dynasty poetry and Chinese classics, and even casual readers will savor a flawed, complex culture, meticulously researched and recreated in powerful prose. Agent: John Silbersack, Trident Media Group. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
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As a boy, Ren Daiyan kills seven outlaws while helping guard an imperial magistrate, and he flees into the forest to emerge many years later as a folk hero who eventually gains the ear of influential generals and courtiers. Lin Shan, raised by her scholar father to be a gifted poet, musician, and calligrapher, finds her unwomanly skills valued by certain powerful people. Set in the Empire of Kitai during a decadent period of imperial excess and the emergence of an aggressive barbarian horde, Kay's historical fantasy takes place in the same world as Under Heaven but separated by 400 years. Mirroring the glittering, doomed Song Dynasty of China, it portrays a world of changing traditions, casual cruelty, and strict codes of honor and respect. VERDICT The author captures the nuances and subtleties of life in China during the Mongol invasions while simultaneously creating a fully realized imaginary world, much as he did in Song of Arbonne (medieval France) and Tigana (medieval Italy). A powerful and complex tale told with simplicity and elegance, this alternate history should attract those who love the genre as well as the author's many fans. (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.
Picking up about 400 years after Under Heaven (2010), Kay reenters his fictionalized version of ancient China near the end of the Twelfth Dynasty (in real-world terms, the story is set around the year 1120, at the time of the fall of Kaifeng, the capital of the Northern Song Dynasty). Kitai, the author's stand-in for imperial China, is on the verge of war. Lin Shan, a determined and unconventional young woman, uses her unusual relationship with the emperor to manipulate events behind the scenes in an effort to protect the life of her beloved father. When he was a boy, Ren Daiyan killed several men while protecting a civil servant from a kidnapping attempt; distraught by what he had done, he went deep into the forest and became an outlaw, reemerging years later to become the leader of a great army whose mission is to stop invaders from crossing into Kitai. Their stories interweave, man and woman affecting the course of history. Fans of Kay's elegantly written novels will clamor for this new blend of sf/fantasy and historical fiction.--Pitt, David Copyright 2010 Booklist