It’s a shame, librarian and Book Lust author Nancy Pearl remarked on NPR, if the masterful UNDER HEAVEN (Roc, $26.95) by Guy Gavriel Kay is shelved only under Sci-Fi/Fantasty, where ardent fans of historical fiction might never find his work. Gorgeously written and impeccably researched, Under Heaven depicts the rich, teeming universe of the Tang Dynasty in 8th-century China (known in this book as “Kitai”). Kay seamlessly blends history and fantasy, magic and myth, in this tale of assassins, scholars, warriors, poets, ruthless courtiers, Machiavellian politicians, and ghosts. Among the best characters are the women, who fuel their world (and the novel) with intelligence and strength.
TO THE END OF THE LAND (Knopf, $26.95), by David Grossman, is a tightly-constructed novel centering on Ora, who flees her home to avoid any bad news about her son, a soldier serving in the Israel Defense Forces and in the direct line of fire in Lebanon. Ora goes to the Galilee, on a hike with an estranged and troubled friend, where she recounts the many stories of her family and past. The stories, and Grossman’s intricate and beautiful prose, weave together the greater and lesser dramas of a family, inextricably tied to the larger framework of politics and the shattering reality of a nation at war.
After twenty years, Salman Rushdie invites readers back to Haroun’s Sea of Stories. LUKA AND THE FIRE OF LIFE (Random House, $25) follows Haroun’s twelve-year-old little brother Luka on a quest to rescue his father from a vengeful curse. Luka must use his wits—and the help of a whimsical crew consisting of a holograph, a princess, a bear named Dog, and a dog named Bear—to find the Fire of Life and break the curse. The novel deftly combines elements from myths, fairy tales, and video games as Luka faces increasingly perilous challenges to reach the different “levels” of his quest. The wordplay and allegory are in classic Rushdie style, while still keeping a matter-of-fact, real-world tone. Luka and the Fire of Life is a fast-paced tale of filial love, mortality, and the power of stories.