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.
©2013 Guy Gavriel Kay (P)2013 Penguin Audio
"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)
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.
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.
Masters in Fiction from Johns Hopkins, aspiring science fiction/humor writer. Give me the unexpected with a bit of grit and humor, please.
Kay is one of those writers who is extremely deliberate. Call it meta-writing, but there is so much more to his novels than what is on the page. When he repeats himself, it's not because he's run out of words nor because he's not paying attention, it's for a purpose, whether one realizes it while reading or not.
Every victory of a main character is unexpected, although not because of surprise, but rather that the reader knows that Kay has no problem keeping his characters from "winning." At least, not storybook success, anyway. Oft times it is a spiritual or historical success, not what one would find from a typical narrative. Most fantasy stories are comedies, either ending with a return to the green world or a wedding. Kay does tragedy the way tragedy should be done, wherein it is only when one thinks back upon the original goals of the characters does one realize that they have failed. Failed is the wrong word. Descended? Found a different goal amidst adversity? Anywho, Kay's tragedies are more Shakespearean than sad, and more immersive than escapist. You can get lost in his writing, but not so much in the world he has created but instead within the hearts and minds of his characters. It's not all touchy-feely, though, and there's plenty of blood and guts to remind the reader of the fragility of the human body as well as the timelessness of the human soul.
The Fox Woman, for obvious reasons.
Kay does royal court politics like nobody else. If there's one thing that's hard to believe, it's the idea that one extremely-intelligent character could be oblivious to the machinations of another extremely-intelligent character. Hard, but not impossible. Kay does a great job of explaining motivation from both the characters' point-of-view as well as from that of outside observers.
I think this book ranks up there with the Sarantium pair, or perhaps exceeds it. The female characters are much more fully and believably drawn, and the plot rollicks along beautifully, with just a touch of the trademark other-worldy incursions we know and love from Kay's other books.
Snotty, elitist lawyer who reads too much and is kind too little.
Simon Vance's unique take on characters.
Ren Daiyan, obviously. Well-developed, three-dimensional, complex... everything for a thinking person to chew over when reading this novel.
Virtually everything. He's absolutely on of the best narrators out there.
No, my emotions never wavered too much from amusement and satisfaction with Kay's prose.
Guy Kay is a master of fantasy masquerading as historical fiction, and "River of Stars" does not seem him break his streak of wonderful books.
Simon Vance's narrating was mostly great, aside from a few mispronunciations of Chinese words.
Only to a select few who are interested in Classical China, but not knowledgeable enough about it to realize that Kay's book is not that historic.
I have not.
The name is fine.
The writing style can be somewhat irritating. Kay has a habit of ending paragraphs with declarative statements like, "He had his personal ambitions" and following them up with matter-of-fact statements like "All people did" or "It was not unusual". It's hard to explain, but when you listen it does get annoying. It makes Kay's otherwise lovely prose seem too formulaic.
Many adventure stories proceed from one act to the next in a predictable way. River of Stars is a meditation on time, history, life and death, the meaning of our choices in the great sweep of centuries. I also learned a lot about ancient Chinese society, and grew to dearly love and care about the fates of the characters.
Report Inappropriate Content