Guy Gavriel Kay is well known for his fantasy books, and although Under Heaven is often placed in that genre, I think historical fiction is a better descriptor. Certainly, there are snippets of magic and superstition, but no more than you would expect from any story set in the past and a great deal less than in most fantasy novels. In any case, this book is my favorite of 2010 and I highly recommend it.
The story is set in the fictional country Kitan, meant to resemble Tang Dynasty China and its neighbors Tibet and Mongolia The book begins with the main character, Shen Tai, living alone in a desert wasteland, burying the bones of two armies who fought a devastating war 20 years ago. He is honoring his father, who has recently died, but there is also an element of self imposed exile, perhaps because of political complications and family issues. Shen earns the respect of enemy commanders at distant outposts, and word of his deeds makes its way to the royal courts of both sides. To honor his efforts, a wife of the enemy king (formerly a princess of Kitan) sends him two hundred fifty horses - a gift of immense value: "You gave a man one of the Sardian horses to reward him greatly. You gave him four or five of those glories to exalt him above his fellows, propel him towards rank - and earn him the jealousy, possibly mortal, of those who rode the smaller ponies of the steppes. The Princess Cheng-Wan, a royal consort of Tagur now through twenty years of peace, had just bestowed upon [Shen Tai], with permission, two hundred and fifty of the dragon horses."
The story follows Shen as he leaves the desert, travels to the imperial court of Kitan (to inform the emperor of his gift, which he must do) and returns to accept the horses. What follows is a riveting tale sure to keep you engrossed the whole way through the book.
This title is available as a book or audio-cd.