Book Review: Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay


Tigana is the internationally celebrated epic of a beleaguered country struggling to be free.  It is the tale of a people so cursed by the dark sorceries of the tyrant kind Brandin that even the very name of their once beautiful home cannot be spoken or remembered.  But, years after their homeland’s devastation, a handful of men and women set in motion a dangerous crusade – to overthrow their conquerors and bring back to the world the lost brightness of an obliterated name: Tigana. 

Against the magnificently realised backdrop of a world both sensuous and brutal, this masterful novel of a passionate people pursuing their dream is breathtaking in its vision, and changes forever the boundaries of fantasy fiction. 


If you have any experience of the fantasy reader community online you have read about ‘Tigana’.  It is one of those books that people see as revolutionary and a highlight of the genre.  It is up there with ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ by George R. R. Martin and Steven Erikson’s ‘Malazan Book of the Fallen’ series in terms of critical reception.  I think the synopsis provides a decent summary of the story-arch of the novel.  The premise is rather genius but very simple to understand – Tigana has been forgotten by all but those who were born there before the change occurred.    The book itself tells the story of two sets of characters – Alessan and his band of revolutionary heroes and Dianora, a woman who is one of the top two in Brandin of Ygarth’s harem.

My reading experience of the book was a mix.  I didn’t like the first part at all – it was really slow and confusing.  By confusing I mean that certain things happened that made it harder for me to get into the book – for instance there is a prologue told through a one-off perspective (which is okay in itself) and then the first chapter is from the perspective of a man who has no relevance to the plot and we never see him again.  Together they were quite long and the first proper chapter with Devin (the main narrator alongside Dianora) doesn’t happen until forty or fifty pages into the book.  By the time that happened I thought he wasn’t going to stick either.  Also I found the first part a bit too predictable for my liking – it is obvious from the start who Alessan is and his level of importance in the story but there are continuous hints that become boring after a while.  However once Dianora is introduced the book gets exciting.  I’m going to post a reaction//spoiler review tomorrow, so I won’t go into details here, but let me just say that she makes the book.  Her story is complex and beautifully flawed.  I would have preferred it if it had been Dianora’s story all the way, because by comparison the ‘heroes’ were just boring.  Devin is an irritating narrator, and the romance that awful.  I’m mentioning this because ‘Tigana’ wants to be an epic tale with a lot of romance put in, and there is only one that works in the entire book.  The rest is just rushed together or cringe inducing (or both).

But, and it is a big but, I loved the book.  I’m not going to say that I couldn’t put it down.  At times I did out of frustration. ‘Tigana’ is a great story underneath it all.  It is thought-provoking and most importantly it is entertaining.  It is action-packed and has perhaps the most perfect ending in a book that I have ever read.  It was equal parts bittersweet and satisfying.  The twist in Dianora’s storyline is just so brilliant that it makes up for the flaws of the book that seem minor after you have read it.  It is similar to the show ‘Dr Who’ in that it is so clever you feel like you should have seen it all along, but you didn’t and you are happy you didn’t and you want to re-read it the minute you finish it to see how the author pulled it off so seamlessly.   It just makes sense.  The ending of the book for Devin and the ‘heroes’ is good too, because you don’t expect it.

I recommend this to fans of books that are more than just cliché, people who know a bit about history, and fans of Dr. Who and Sherlock who like seeing clever tricks being pulled off before their eyes.


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