Guy Gavriel Kay – Tigana

I am huge fan of book-related podcasts and without the Sword & Laser show I probably would have let this book rot on the TBR pile for even longer. Thankfully, it was this month’s pick for their book club and I enjoyed myself immensely. Be sure to check out the discussions on Goodreads as well. For the paranoid ones among you: I shortened the synopsis (as the original one contains some massive spoilers) to a minimum. So this review is absolutely spoiler-free.

by Guy Gavriel Kay

published: Penguin Canada, 1990
ISBN: 0451457765
pages: 673
copy: paperback

my rating: 9,5/10

first sentence: Both moons were high, dimming the light of all but the brightest stars.

Eight of the nine provinces of the Peninsula of the Palm, on a world with two moons, have fallen to the warrior sorcerers Brandin of Ygrath and Alberico of Barbadior. Brandin’s younger son is slain in a battle with the principality of Tigana, which the grief-stricken sorcerer then destroys. Years later, a small band of survivors, led by Alessan, last prince of Tigana’s royal house, wages psychological warfare, planting seeds for the overthrow of the two tyrants. At the center of these activities are Devin, a gifted young singer, and Catriana, a young woman pursued by suspicions of her family’s guilt.

A book of this size can be daunting, even for the experienced fantasy reader. The prologue started out promising enough, but in chapter 1 I was completely lost. Names are thrown around, political situations gossiped about and me, poor reader, in the middle of it all, not understanding any of it. Then I got some advice from the reading group which I will now pass on to you, dear readers. Just make it to chapter 3 or 4 and the initial confusion will be gone. At that point, this book had its hooks firmly set into me and wouldn’t let them go until the very end.

For me, the perfect novel needs to excel on all levels. Characters and their development, plot, themes, world-building and writing style. Tigana is nearly perfect in all of those. The characters got to me in a way that I haven’t experienced since Robin Hobb’s books. Incidentally, Kay’s style is also somewhat similar to Hobb’s. Attentive Devin, Alessan with his dream, seemingly cold Catriana, and mysterious Baerd each took their own time to become truly interesting but in the end, I cared for every one of them. My favorite character by far was Dianora – I could have read a whole book just about her internal conflict. That said, Erlein also grew to be a favorite – I do have a thing for characters who have to fight conflicts within themselves.

Speaking of conflict: Until the very end, I had no idea what conclusion the story would reach. It could have gone either way and honestly, Kay probably would have pulled either of them off. I am very pleased with the way it did end, even though it was bittersweet and broke my heart a little. Because of all the incredible plot  twists along the way, my hopes for the characters actually changed quite a bit. Kay’s slow revelation of certain truths and other twists that come with a bang managed to create a huge novel without a boring moment in it.

The more I advanced in the story line, the more moments of WTF I can’t believe this just happened came up. And Guy Gavriel Kay drew me into this tale of patriotism and memory and made me fall in love. With the incredible things I had heard about Kay’s writing,  I should have been disappointed. But my high expectations were surpassed, and by far. I came to care about Tigana as if it were my home too.

It’s not a book I’d recommend to everyone. If you don’t like Guy Gavriel Kay’s winded language, long descriptions, or if you hate waiting for a particular plotline to pick up again, this is not for you. If you do like these things – or at least don’t mind them – then let me push Tigana your way. It is definitely worth the read and personally, I enjoyed every page of description, of inner conflict and of characters reminiscing and dreaming about a home that has been taken from them and for the moment only lives on in their memories.

However different opinions may be, for me this was an absolute standout. A book that accompanied me for more than a month and that, when I wasn’t reading it, kept me thinking and worried about the characters. Most of all, it constantly kept me guessing. The ending is a highlight that I can’t begin to describe. But I loved that while the reader finds out the truth about certain things, not all of the characters do. And I’m not even going to start about that last sentence. My mouth was agape for about a minute. Guy Gavriel Kay just got catapulted to my top authors (and people say Tigana is one of his not-so-great novels).

THE GOOD: Amazing, vivid characters. Gorgeous language, plot-twists, surprises and action mixed with calmer moments that make you think long and hard about what’s important.
THE BAD: The language is sure to put some people off. It takes a while for the story to pick up and the style is sweeping and flowers. Not for everybody.
THE VERDICT:  Fans of Robin Hobb’s writing will find a new favorite in this story. Similarly epic in scope and style, this story deals with big themes and all-too-human characters that break your heart on every page.

RATING: 9,5/10  Damn close to perfection!

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