This is a hard book to review, I am feeling all the feels after that ending. Although not the first Guy Gavriel Kay book I have bought, it is the first of his that I have read after seeing such great reviews from trusted sources on goodreads. And I thought Tigana was excellent. Really, really excellent.
The Peninsula of the Palm comprises of 9 provinces that, after an invasion, are ruled by two rival sorcerers: Brandin, King of Ygrath and Alberico, a warlord from Barbadior. In revenge for the death of his beloved son, Brandin curses the province of Tigana so that no-one remembers its history, culture or can even speak its name, save for those born there before the curse. He also sacks it, renames it and imposes heavy taxes in order to cripple its economy just for good measure. Tigana follows the story of several characters who all desire to see the end of one, or both, of these tyrannical invaders.
Sometimes stand alone fantasy stories struggle to create well-rounded worlds with complex character histories and personalities as well as execute an exciting plot but thankfully this is not the case with Tigana. Each character was well developed and had their own purpose and direction. Even though they were going through situations I couldn’t hope to fully comprehend, I still felt for them. I was fully immersed in their tale and rejoiced when characters came together or were revealed to one and other. Even though I often disagreed with their decisions, I still felt like I was going through all their heartbreak, loss, betrayals and elations right there with them. Towards the end there were points where I had to stop just to shout ‘no way!’ and gather myself before I carried on. I can’t say that is something that happens to me a lot, nor is it often that fictional situations give me goosebumps, such a testament to how invested I was in the characters and story. I was able to guess who certain characters were due to hints earlier in the novel but there were still several twists I didn’t see coming that had me gasping in shock which is always a plus! The mythology of the world, it’s gods, beliefs and mythical creatures were weaved throughout the novel really well and it added an extra dimension to the characters’ motives and feelings.
GGK’s writing is perhaps a tad too flowery for my tastes but I think it fit with the feel of the story. Kay took inspiration from the European medieval era and there was a clear emphasis on the powerful nature of lyrics and melody in tales of love, loss and epic mythology. I feel like his prose reflected this and it definitely sucked me into the narrative, even though it’s not necessarily something I’m usually drawn to. One of my main issues however, which was annoying enough to prevent me from giving five stars, is that Kay constantly pulled me out of the narrative by continuously highlighting the importance of a character’s decision and how later they would realise just how much it would affect their life from that point on – before the action had even happened.
Eg Character X knew what they were about to do but little did they know how much they would reflect on it in the coming months/how it would shape their future etc etc … ad nauseam.
It felt overly dramatic, cliched and happened so often that my eyes just got used to rolling during important scenes.
I also found that during intense, revelatory moments he unnecessarily dragged out the suspense by using more pointless words. I understand that he was doing this on purpose to keep us on the edge of our seats, so to speak, but it did get a bit frustrating! Some people may find Kay’s writing style to be a bit slow and steady but I really didn’t notice that, I am a fan of Robin Hobb and similar character-driven stories, after all. I felt this was a perfect mix of epic fantasy and almost historical fiction-esque writing.
The ending wasn’t neat, some characters did not get the closure I would have liked, and some characters made choices that I rather they hadn’t, but it made an addictive and really enjoyable read. I look forward to reading more of his work soon!