Guy Gavriel Kay
1990, still in print (a tenth anniversary edition was
published last year)
673 pages in paperback
“Tigana” is a fantasy
novel of the highest quality.
It’s a book filled with magic, political intrigue,
romance, vengeance, and friendship.
I chose this book for my first review for several
reasons. Kay is one
of my favorite authors, and I consider him among the best
fantasy authors alive; “Tigana” has been rated one of the
top fantasy novels of all time; and, finally, the story
apparently has considerable meaning for Croatian readers.
In fact, in an interview for Starlog magazine, Kay stated
that many Croatians, as well as other Eastern Europeans, have
asked him if he was actually writing about them.
In my opinion, all of this, along with one other thing I
will point out later, made it an ideal choice for the debut of
this column, although in future, most of the books I review will
not have such a direct connection to GV.
At the core of “Tigana”,
are some interesting, and thought-provoking, questions.
How essential is racial/ethnic identity, to an individual
and to a nation? How
much of that identity is wrapped up in a name?
And, however badly you have been injured, is there a
point where a quest for vengeance damages you, your allies, and
your loved ones as much as your targeted enemies?
The Palm is a peninsula much
like Italy, with several city-states similar to those in the
time of the notorious Borgia family.
Two sorcerer Tyrants invade the peninsula, Alberico and
Brandin, dividing it between them. Brandin wants to establish a territory for his beloved
younger son, Stevan, but Stevan is killed in the invasion of
Tigana, one of the proudest of the city-states.
In his grief and rage, Brandin uses his magic to conquer
Tigana, killing the best part of a generation of its citizens.
Then he goes beyond that, beyond even the destruction of
palaces and libraries, beyond taxes and slavery, even beyond
murder: he uses his magic to take away the name of Tigana.
No one born outside of the province remembers that name,
nor can they hear it if it is spoken.
No one born there after the conquest can hear it.
Those who do remember it cannot teach their children of
their heritage, when every mention of the name brings only
bewilderment and frustration, and all physical elements like
books, artwork, and buildings, have been destroyed.
The curse will lift when Brandin dies, but the sorceror
is committed to staying on the peninsula and magically extending
his life, leaving his homeland to be ruled by his abandoned wife
and his older son, so he will outlive anyone born in the
province before the curse, and can therefore witness the
ultimate vengeance: no one will remember Tigana and it will be
as though it never existed at all.
In the twenty years since the
conquest of The Palm, Alberico and Brandin have settled into an
uneasy peace. Tigana,
now called Lower Corte – after the city-state that was its
oldest enemy – is completely down-trodden; many of its people
have fled their homes, seeking to physically escape, while
others have found their escape in insanity, or suicide.
There are some, however, who hope to destroy Brandin
before all traces of their beloved homeland have vanished.
Among these are the sole surviving member of Tigana’s
ruling family, Prince Alessan, now leading a small band of
rebels; and Dianora, a high-born woman who left everything
behind to work her way into Brandin’s palace and a high
position in his saishan, the harem, with murder her ultimate
goal. They must be
careful and watch their timing, for should Brandin fall while
Alberico is still strong, Tigana will merely trade one Tyrant
for another – although there is one faction among the rebels
that believes this would be a small price to pay to get their
name back. But
Prince Alessan wants to bring true freedom back to the whole
peninsula, and that means uniting the rebels and destroying
Alberico and Brandin at the same time. Meanwhile, heroes and villains alike face such dilemmas as
the conflicts between personal and national loyalty, and between
love for a person and hate for what that person has done.
Guy Gavriel Kay writes complex
stories, with vivid, three-dimensional characters, both good and
evil; he deals with multiple, but related issues, and puts the
interrelationships between characters at the heart of
drive the events, and as a result, the reader can get caught up
in them. You see
these people struggle, suffer, fall down and get up again, lose
their way, and triumph; and through it all, you care about them.
Kay runs several concurrent storylines, tracing the
activities of several different characters or groups of
characters without getting lost or sacrificing plausibility and
the buildup of tension. This
requires not only skill, but discipline and organization as
well. This author
is also a word-crafter, capable of putting words together so
beautifully that I find myself reading certain passages again
and again just for the joy of it.
There is one final reason I
chose this book for my first review.
It has to do with the character of Prince Alessan, a
flawed and yet heroic man who has suffered greatly and will
suffer yet more, a man committed to a great and seemingly
impossible goal, capable of doing harsh things and making
difficult choices in order to make that impossible goal
possible. He was
only a child, too young to be sent to the battlefield when
Brandin first invaded Tigana, forced to be patient, hiding his
identity behind the mask of an itinerant musician while he
builds his support and sets his schemes in motion, nineteen
years of scheming. He
is indeed a memorable character, above other memorable
characters. If he
doesn’t sound familiar yet, read this description, where at
first he is being compared to another character who appears to
be in his very late teens:
“The other man, Alessan, looked around fifteen years
older, perhaps more. His
black, tangled hair was prematurely graying – silvering,
actually – at the temples. He had a lean, expressive face with very clear gray eyes and
a wide mouth. He
intimidated her a little, even though he was joking easily with
her father, right from the start, in exactly the manner she knew
Rovigo most enjoyed.
Perhaps that was it, Alais thought: few people she’d
met could keep up with her father, in jesting or in anything
else. And this man
with the sharp quizzical features appeared to be doing so
wondered, aware that the thought was more than a little arrogant
on her part, how a Tregean musician could manage that.”
The only problem is that I
never got a feeling for Alessan’s height, but otherwise, oh,
what a great role for Goran!
However (heavy sigh), I don’t think Hollywood could
manage to make a coherent motion picture of “Tigana”.
It’s too complex, and too long.
It is a great book, but it would be far too difficult to
translate to screen. Guess
I’ll just have to settle for reading it.
If you’re interested in a challenging story, full of
magic, sorcery, action, romance, and intrigue, give “Tigana”
a chance. It starts
slow – but watch for a particular scene in a hunting lodge.
I hope you get caught up in the story as I did, and then
begin exploring Guy Gavriel Kay’s other books.
Until next month,
You can find a copy of
Tigana at amazon.com
, your local book store or library
above material is considered the property of Roberta.
If you wish to use this article, in part or whole, please
contact her at
for her permission.