I liked Under Heaven, Guy Gavriel Kay’s take on 8th Century China, but it might be the first historical fantasy I’ve read that felt too realistic.
The magic in Under Heaven (shamans, ghosts, etc.) only exists on the margins, yet that isn’t what threw me off. And I respect how much research Kay clearly did on the Tang Dynasty, even though he occasionally delivers his version of the details as bald info-dumps. Mostly, I just wish the protagonist’s decisions and actions mattered more.
Guy Gavriel Kay’s Tigana is the best-written fantasy I’ve read in a while.
It wasn’t just the prose that got me (although Kay’s phrasing is often gorgeous). I loved the setup: instead of having one villain threatening to take over the known world, Kay has two, both sorcerers. And they’ve already divided up the Palm, a hand-shaped peninsula based on the boot of early Renaissance Italy. The resulting balance is precarious. “Today only the power of one keeps the magic of the other from b...