“Tigana, let my memory of you be like a blade in my soul.”
Have you ever ripped through the first half of a book only to find yourself slowing down toward the end? Not because you’ve lost interest, but because you know the story will end and you’re afraid you know how it’s going to end and you fret for the characters you’ve grown to love?
Guy Gavriel Kay’s Tigana is such a book, though I won’t spoil things and tell you if the ending met those expectations.
I was lucky enough to find a used copy at my local Friends of the Library for fifty cents. I feel like I need to send Kay a check to make up the difference of its true value, because there is so much in this book for both readers and writers.
Before I gush much more, I will say it’s not a perfect book and it’s not for every reader, but it’s damn close to the first and I believe attractive to both fantasy and historical fiction buffs.
Yes, the pace sometimes slows down and there are bouts of repetitive introspection. But even with walls of text, the realistic history of this fictional world is so intriguing that the pages never stop turning.
The Palm, a peninsula of quarrelsome provinces, finds itself at the mercy of two competing superstates each led by a powerful sorcerer. Twenty years prior to the book’s opening chapter, the province of Tigana rose up to challenge one of them, Brandon of Ygrath, killing his son and incurring a wrath that has nearly obliterated Tigana’s identity from the realm’s collective memory.
Now, Tigana’s sons and daughters are putting events into motion in order to bring the name back and restore what once was.
Tigana is supposed to be modeled after the fractious city-states of medieval Italy. The worldbuilding is beyond reproach, deftly colored with music, religion, politics, and history. I read somewhere on the Internet that Kay takes his sweet time writing books and may indeed have rooms packed to the ceiling with research material.
After finishing the book, I don’t doubt either statement. I also felt a niggling suspicion that George R.R. Martin has a worn out copy sitting on his nightstand. It did come out several years before Game of Thrones and I see a lot of similarities in style.
Tigana has a lot to teach a writer. There’s not just a breadth of characters here but so much depth to each one; yet that depth is never explored at the expense of a solid story structure. Kay’s characters all have strong goals and equally strong motives. Tension is constantly rising toward the main climax. Subplots tie neatly in to the overall storyline. Major characters follow interesting arcs. Then there are the themes of memory and identity which sit comfortably all the way through.
One of Kay’s more interesting techniques is to lead the reader into thinking someone or something is as it seems, then cleverly revealing that someone or something is entirely different soon after. Yet, the twist makes complete logical sense.
I’ve already begun a second reading and analysis so I can peel back the onion skin hiding the author’s tricks.
For some sad reason there is no Kindle version available, but maybe that is rightly so. Tigana seems better served with paper and glue. If a new copy costs too many nickels, please try to find a used one. You’ll be glad you did.