By Roberta


AUTHOR:  Guy Gavriel Kay

DATE:   1990, still in print (a tenth anniversary edition was published last year)

LENGTH:  673 pages in paperback

GENRE:   fantasy


“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 everything.  People 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 effortlessly.  She 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.


Keep Reading!

Until next month,


You can find a copy of Tigana at , your local book store or library

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