Guy Gavriel Kay is a Canadian fantasy writer whose works are known to have settings that resemble real places during historical periods. For those of you who are new to Guy Gavriel Kay, apart from his own novels he is best known for his editorial contributions to The Silmarillion along with Christopher Tolkien. This standalone fantasy novel Tigana takes place in a region called the Peninsula of the Palm and resembles Renaissance Italy as well as several character names having Italian pronunciations. The amount of research, studies, and imagination Kay put into this novel is astonishing and it deserves a place with the all-time classics of this genre.
The Peninsula of the Palm has been invaded and conquered by the wizard Brandin and the whole land has put under his rule. During the war, Brandin lost his son in the skirmish and decides to curse the land of Tigana by striking the memory of it from every person living on the peninsula. The land is now referred to as Lower Corte and its history, traditions, and customs are shrouded in mystery. The only ones immune to this curse are local wizards who have now gone into hiding since they are being hunted. We follow several characters throughout the story as we all ask the questions of what memory plays in crafting the people we are today and what would you do to reclaim something so vital to your upbringing?
First person we follow is the musician Devin. Joined a music group at a young age as his talents were discovered and his father having nothing more for him following the death of Devin’s mother. While practicing in a local bar in Astibar, Devin stumbles upon a secret meeting among leaders from across the continent wanting to overthrow Brandin and his terrible curse. It is discovered that several members of this secret group are from Tigana and Devin is welcomed as a member with him being from Tigana as well. Their mission will take you all across the Palm with plenty of history, singing, struggles, and tears along the way. The second person we follow is Dianora, also of Tigana and brought before Brandin as a concubine when she was twenty-one years old. Dianora remembers the hardships and pain Brandin has caused not only her homeland but her family as well. It is through her chapters that we get a first hand look into the workings of the conqueror and they show that Brandin may not be this ultimate evil we first thought. Dianora has her desire to see Brandin fall from within and will set several events in motion for her revenge. The finale POV character we follow is Alaster. Alaster is the long lost prince of Tigana and he joins in Devin’s group to overthrow Brandin. Alaster has his inner demons after spending so much time in exile and he wants his proper place restored in the world.
The characters introduced in Tigana are all for the most part morally grey and they will be crafted by the hard choices they have to make. There are several unexpected moments and twists I did not see coming and the payoff is well worth the investment. Kay’s writing style is philosophical and beautiful but can be drawn out at times. It seems like whenever a new character is introduced, the author needs to write six to eight pages of backstory regarding the character before the main plot can continue. I learned to expect this but this can and will take some readers completely out of the story and with this being over a six hundred page novel, the writing will make it feel that much longer. The main experience that stuck with me during my read is memories are one of the things we all share as people and the loss of that can affect everyone differently. Some will adjust and move on, others will feel lost and abandoned, and some will feel like a piece of there soul is gone forever. What would you do to gain back that feeling of being whole again and who will you become to do it? This are the central questions that will be answered in Tigana.
I think this will be the tipping off point for me and my Guy Gavriel Kay reading experience. Tigana is not an easy read to get through but the story told will stay in your memory for a long time. Unless a wizard puts a curse on you!