River of Stars by Guy Gavriel Kay
Hardcover: 656 pages
Publisher: Roc Hardcover; 1 edition (April 2, 2013)
In his latest book River of Stars, Guy Gavriel Kay returns to the empire of Kitai several centuries following Under Heaven. While it is not necessary to have read Under Heaven before this book, it does provide some historical context of where the empire is now compared to where it was before.
The great empire of Kitai is in decline. The emperor is more concerned with the arts and with building his magnificent garden that he tends to ignore the fact his empire is under threat from rebellious factions. Kay does a nice job with the cultural aspects and historical details in the novel. The court intrigue and social interactions of the characters brings the Song dynasty alive.
Ren Daiyan is the protagonist of the novel. His is an outlaw. Forced to band together with other outlaws like himself after killing seven men, Daiyan has dreams of restoring the empire to its once former glory. He wants to be a great military leader.
The other main character is Lin Shan, a daughter of a scholar. Shan is educated in many subjects unusual at the time for women. She is a gifted poet and calligrapher. Without delving too heavily into the plot, Lin Shan, like Daiyan, plays an important role in the shaping of the ever-changing Kitai empire.
There are a lot of interesting factors at play in this novel: court politics, war, cultural arts, love. As always, Kay is an exquisite storyteller and great developer of characters. While it might take a bit longer to get into than Under Heaven, Kay’s latest novel is still worth the read.