Being a book snob, I’m usually picky about what I read, but when Clare, The Literary Omnivore, started talking about Tigana back in the spring, I found myself curious and knew I would have to read it.
Guy Gavriel Kay’s Tigana was originally released in 1990, winning the 1991 Aurora and World Fantasy Awards. It received such accolades because Kay writes from a unique perspective. Instead of giving us the setting by describing the action and plot, he lets us learn about the Palm through the normal lives and reactions of its inhabitants. It takes a couple of chapters for the central character, Devin, to show up and, when he does, he clearly comes from an average lifestyle.
But Devin’s simple life as an up-and-coming singer are limited when a group of secretive insurgents recognize a simple tune he sings. The musical tone is nothing to most people, but to someone from the forgotten nation of Tigana, it marks Devin as a citizen of Tigana. Once Devin remembers his heritage in a poetic manner, he joins with Alessan, the last Prince of Tigana, and Baerd, a capable man who is also a master of disguise. Together, they being playing a political chess game to drive a pair of rival conquering sorcerers from the Palm.
The primary threat comes from Brandin of Ygrath, a sorcerer who, in an act of revenge, slaughtered Tigana’s army and most of its ruling family before removing the name of the nation from the hearts and minds of everyone in the Palm.
Our direct perspective on Brandin comes from Dianora, one of the sorcerer king’s concubines. Dianora is secretly from Tigana and has hidden her true identity so she might eventually get close to the sorcerer and kill him. By the time she gets into position, Dianora has become an influential woman in Brandin’s court. An assassination attempt occurs in the court, forcing Dianora to assess what she’s doing and why.
It may not sound like it from my description, but Dianora’s subplot is the strongest in the book. Her perspective dominates the story when things center on her subplot. Her choices aren’t simple and they’re fueled by emotional history, not just a desire to get to the next plot point.
Often, in fact, the story centers around a layering of poetic descriptions and simple decisions. Kay paints incredible word pictures, turning descriptions from simple use of words into bold images of who a person it and what they are like. His focus is always with the people in the story and the lives they lead.
Tigana is not the easiest book to discuss plot details, especially in trying to not give away plot points. It’s truly an amazing feat of emotion, character, and the conflict of losing memory and having memory taken away.