Tigana: Fascinating story filled with passion

book review Tigana Guy Gavriel KayTigana by Guy Gavriel Kay

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsTigana is a masterpiece.

It is difficult to summarize the plot, for so much of the story unfolds organically — indeed, as a near-perfect tainflower — that one fears to spoil the pleasure of becoming swept up in the narrative. That said, the tale concerns the Palm, a mythic penninsula reminiscent of Italy, a land divided between two wizard-conquerors. One conqueror has utterly blighted the province of Lower Corte with an undreamt-of dark magic. (Take a fresh look at the map of the Palm mid-way through, and you will grasp the immensity of the spell!) A handful of refugees must undo the spell… yet if the one wizard falls, the other will irrevocably gain control of the Palm, leaving the deadly choice: the breaking of the spell, interminable conquest… or, perhaps, perhaps, the smallest gleam of freedom.

Guy Gavriel Kay’s writing flows well, as always, fresh and lyrical and soaked with human understanding. The first chapter is a work of genius for its perspective on the heroes’ way of building toward their goal, as is the surprising revelation in the climax, and — perhaps most of all — the heart-tingling last paragraph. (Wait!) The only flaw is Baerd’s strange, protracted battle with the Night-walkers (a touch cliched), and (just perhaps) a touch of gratuitous eroticism in Castle Borso. Even so, these flaws are minor and only faintly detract from the beauty of the whole.

“Tigana, may the memory of you be like a blade in my soul!” (And may GGK’s work receive its just recognition).

~Rob Rhodes


fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsbook review Tigana Guy Gavriel KayNobody remembers Tigana — a land bright with beauty, culture, and wealth — nobody but those who lived there before the land was cursed by the conqueror Brandin of Ygrath after the prince of Tigana killed Brandin’s son in battle. When the now-oppressed Tiganese try to tell outsiders about Tigana, the name just slips out of the listener’s mind. Only those born in the land are able to keep its beautiful name in memory.

But the prince of Tigana’s son still lives and he and his companions plan to restore their land’s name. But, not only must they kill Brandin of Ygrath, but also Alberico of Barbadior, who rules the other half of their peninsula. Otherwise, they will merely be consumed by a different tyrant.

I was entranced by Tigana right from the first page. What I noticed immediately was the passion — this is a story lovingly wrought by an author who loves language, loves his characters, and loves the world he’s created. Guy Gavriel Kay’s prose is heavy (sometimes too heavy) with imagery and emotion yet it reads, for the most part, easily (except for the occasional unexpected shift in point-of-view).fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews

Kay’s characters are distinct, well-developed, and likable. The prince’s companions are a diverse group, each with his/her own personality, strengths, and weaknesses. The actions and motives of the villains are completely understandable — in fact, I felt sympathetic toward them.

The story of the struggle to free Tigana was fascinating. There were some slightly unbelievable or contrived plot devices, but the rest of the story was excellent enough that I was perfectly happy to overlook them. The end was surprising and bittersweet.

I listened to most of Tigana on audio (and read some it in print). Simon Vance is the reader, and he is one of the very best. If you’re an audiobook listener, I’d definitely suggest that format for Tigana. But, either way, Tigana is a must-read.

~Kat Hooper

Tigana — (1990) Won the 1991 Aurora Award. From Author’s website: Tigana is set in the ‘Peninsula of the Palm’ a land evocative of Italy, in a world with two moons… Two sorcerors, one a petty lordling from Barbadior, the other the king of Ygrath, have come to the Peninsula from overseas, intent on conquest. Brandin, King of Ygrath, wants to carve out a realm for his beloved younger son, Stevan. Having conquered three of the nine provinces of the Palm, he sends Stevan to subjugate the next province whilst he faces Alberico, the other conqueror. Stevan is killed in battle by the people of that last province. Brandin, in bitterest grief, and in revenge against the people who killed his son, lays a curse on that province. After sweeping down and destroying the remnants of their army, burning their books and destroying their architecture and statuary, he makes it so that no one not born in that province can even hear its name. Tigana is a story of the struggle for identity and freedom in the face of brutal oppression.

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ROB RHODES was graduated from The University of the South and The Tulane University School of Law and currently works as a government attorney. He has published several short stories and is a co-author of the essay “Sword and Sorcery Fiction,” published in Books and Beyond: The Greenwood Encyclopedia of New American Reading. In 2008, Rob was named a Finalist in The L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest. Rob retired from FanLit in September 2010 after more than 3 years at FanLit. He still reviews books and conducts interviews for us occasionally. You can read his latest news at Rob's blog.

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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4 comments

  1. Kay is one of those authors who has been hovering in my peripherals for a few years now. I hear nothing but great things about him, but for some reason I’m still hesitant to give him a try. Maybe it’s because at my core I guess I’m still a heroic adventure type reader and just not sure I’ll get Kay.

  2. Greg, Tigana could definitely qualify as heroic adventure!

  3. Josh Lease /

    Did a re-read for the first time in a long time on this one, and I still really really like it…but Dianora’s tale falls flat for me now. I know it’s supposed to be epically tragic and lend an additional Shakespearean air to to the whole proceedings and ensure that the triumphs are as shot through with sadness as possible, but it just doesn’t fit. You could leave out basically all of her story, just drop in the news of Ygrathians in faster, other ways and still get the job done.

    Beyond that, a more modern perspective of things like PTSD and Stockholm Syndrome and abuse rips a lot of the romance that’s supposed to be found in her story. I wonder if Kay would have written it that way today.

  4. Interesting question, Josh! It’s been so long since I read this. Time for a re-read.

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