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Saturday, 17 May 2014

Book: Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay

A-hoy-hoy. Here's my next selection for the 2014 Summer Fantasy Book Challenge. It's a long book, so the review is on the longer side. As always, I write whatever I feel like - emoticons and profanity are permitted as expressive tools =] - and my posts are not spoiler free. Enjoyy.


Tigana review

Author: Guy Gavriel Kay
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Published: February 2011 (this edition)
Fantasy Sub-Genre: I thought this was an Epic because it's an enormous book, involves a wealth of characters, and the whole world hangs in the balance. But actually I think it's High, or at least a mix, because of the magic, because of the complicated moral decisions and because it really delves into the inner core of the characters' emotions.

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 king 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 realized 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.

This book was recommended by my oldest sister who labelled it as 'amazing'. The cover is mysterious, albeit dull, and the blurb piqued my interest, though not enough if I was standing in a bookstore with the decision to buy. Interesting how vague the Amazon description is and how detailed the Goodreads description is. I wonder if that would have changed my perception of the story before reading. Still - I have my sister's copy, I said I would read, and so I did.

Quick summary - this book is about a nation called Tigana that is wiped out of existence when a sorcerer Tyrant King called Brandin loses his son to the Prince of Tigana, during a war. Against all odds, the war survivors and those who were children at the time of the war go on a quest to banish that magic and restore the name of the home they forgot. That's the gist. I read the story one part at a time - five sittings, one each day over this week. It works. The end of each part feels like the natural place to rest.

First we have a sombre prologue. A while ago my eldest sister said something about publishers growing to dislike prologues because they weren't effectively used. More like a lazy way of including backstory instead of weaving it into the story Like A Master Author Should or whatever. Not the case with this. The prologue I very much enjoyed, even though it felt very typical for fantasy - but that's what we love about it, right?! I liked the two characters Saevar and Valentin. To be honest it was a struggle to make sense of what was happening - Chapter One really confused things and it took a while for the details to straighten out - but the atmosphere was perfectly crafted and helped to set the tone for the novel.

Part One gets us straight into our fantasy world politics. The first thing I understood was that I didn't like how it was written. Fantasy literature often uses that elaborate flowery language - sometimes I have read it and it sounds beautiful, other times it sounds like this; exaggerated. Instead of drawing me into this world, instead I can barely focus on what's happening because I'm bewildered by this incredibly intricate language in both prose and dialogue. It's very jarring.

But there were some beautiful passages as well. I liked the descriptions of the moon chasing each other, which was iconic because up until that point the description of place and setting had been poor, for me. I couldn't visualise where the characters were. But it did get a lot better. For example, over the course of the novel I loved the repetition of Eanna's stars. And my WORDDD, the scene at the end of Part One with Tomasso (I keep thinking Tomato... some of these names, honestly. Not a fan.) and his father Sandre, that was simply wonderful.

I only spotted 1 typo - 'AIix' instead of 'Alix'. Hardly worth mentioning. (In Dream London, I spotted three missing full stops.) But there was this really jarring sentence that I couldn't help rereading over and over - 'They both turned to Devin. [new paragraph] Who felt himself going red.' Starting a sentence with WHO sounded worse than starting it with AND - which I'm trying to stop doing with my writing, by the way. But what bugs me about that sentence was that I personally like experimenting with my writing style and I might easily have something like that in my own novel. But reading it here in print just seems silly and immediately snaps my focus away from what's happening.

The story picked up toward the end of Part One, that's when I began to get hooked. We start to learn about the conspiracies, secret identities and whatnot, and despite my frustration at the overused Secret Prince cliche, I can't help but love it because it's such a classic trope of fantasy. And in this case, even though I don't like HOW it was done - it worked because it was unpredictable. There was a sense of satisfaction reading it and linking it back to the Prologue. But importantly, we are being told about the MAGIC. Hellooo?! FANTASY!

Part Two really picks up because it follows Dianora, which was very interesting because of her conflict of wanting to avenge her father and her home, and having fallen in the love with the man who destroyed both. The riselka is fascinating, definitely a strong point for this novel.  It was excellent how humane Brandin seemed, even with us knowing what he did,  but we also pick up that his sense of righteousness is actually what led him to do this awful thing. I myself felt conflicted about whether I wanted her to assassinate him... for a time. Then I wanted him to get his (lol). We get more names, some awful ones still bugging me from earlier - Adreano, Alberico, Catriana, Tomasso - and then there was some beautiful, beautiful names, like Dianora, Orsaria, Iassica (that's my favourite.) of course that's just my preference. But there's more poorly written passages;

'Has the sea rotted your miserable excuse for a brain?' the Governor screamed, ill-advisedly. The Captain's brow darkened. (p.232) Describing the Captain reaction makes it clear that he's angry - so why is it necessary to emphasis that the Governor's words are 'ill-advised'? These little quips are littered throughout that first part of the story, disrupting the flow of the story. As a reader, it jumps out at me when I feel like I'm being patronised. Many facts of the tale are repeated tirelessly - and I get it. It's a big novel, easy to mix stuff up, plus different characters will put their view on the same subject. But I do feel like things we already knew are flung into our face time and time again.

And then Dianora saying to Brandin - 'But tell me, my lord, in all fairness, which of us, truly, has honored you more?' (p.254)  Oh WOW, commas galore. I only noticed it because in my university essays, my tutor has told me that I sometimes overdo it with the commas - and she only noticed it because SHE does the same. But five commas in a sixteen-word sentence... yeah, I don't think an editor should have let that one slide.

Sorry. I actually feel the need to apologise! I know I'm slamming this book pretty hard. The story is actually very good, fantasy just the way I like it. It's just the prose. I can't get my head around this prose.

Part Three again jumps massively from the previous part, and by now I'm starting to get hooked, wanting to know how the tale resolves. I hugely enjoy Alberico's chapters, I love the plotting and scheming on his end. Alienor was intriguing if not creepy, though I took me a looong time to understand exactly what her place was in the story. I love how the story unfolds but I don't love the casual slipping between the past and the present in the narration. You expect it to be a small flashback, and then the flashback runs on for several pages and you're like, hang on here, WHAT is going on. These jumps in perspective happen again in Part Four, when Dianora's POV begins and then suddenly we are thrown a tidbit about Alessan. Then Dianora's bit continues and without warning - Baerd. And then Rovigo narration intermingled with Alais... I have tried to just accept it and a new and fresh type of storytelling as it's certainly been done before. But it's not for me.

The dream fight against the Others is my favourite part of the book. It much reminds me of GRRM's Cold Ones - the fight to save the world that only a handful of people know about, while the rest of the world squabbles over thrones and the Emperor's Tiara and crap. *sigh*.

I enjoyed Part Four as much as Three but the repetition is starting to make it sound 'Explainy' again. Yes, we understand all of Dianora's woes about her situation, we've already been told how she is feeling... I believe that part of the pleasure of reading such an intricate book is not only reading into what is said but also what is not said. Sadly a lot is spelled out for the reader in this novel - the patronising thing - and at times there is not enough opportunity to analyse their words and actions about their feelings, instead we are just carelessly told and that takes away the grandeur of the storytelling in a flash.

The addition of a Healer was very interesting . I was very alert at this because my book also features a Healer, with different capabilities naturally (I also made the choice to not create a special name for them - won't go into the details here).  Key bits that I liked - Dianora and the riselka, the turn of events with the outlaws, Alessan's mother. I also really enjoyed that scene with Baerd, Sandre and Catriana; I liked the relationship between them.

Part Five, the crux. I was on the edge of my seat for the final climactic magic battle between the three wizards on Alessan's side, and then Alberico, and Brandin. That was just fantastic. The magic had already been good throughout the story, a fresh and intriguing take on it. I'll tell you what wasn't fantastic. That awful and pointless scene of Dianora almost committing suicide by drowning and then not doing it at the last minute. For the the first time in the novel, I felt like I'd wasted my time.

My feelings about the end of the book are very very complicated. One the one hand, I wasn't satisfied. I can't help being the type of person who liked a revelation - I had desperately hoped that Brandin would discover that Dianora was from Tigana, or that Baerd would find her, or that Alessan would discover the horrifying truth about his father. It didn't matter which one, but I was seeking a sense of things being wrapped up. I wanted that feeling of the ignorance being lifted. But too many things were left concealed, and even though in Scelto's case I liked that he did the thing opposite to what we expected, on top of everything it wasn't even Alessan who had the final face off with Brandin. Infuriating.

On the other hand, the part where Devin listed all the things he wanted to do in his life was such a lovely thing to end with. It really lifted the story up in its final moment and gave it life and hope. One thing I must say was absolutely perfect was the three of them seeing the riselka at the end of the novel. Haunting, foreboding, yet incredible. If I may make a careful prediction  - I think Sandre will die, Baerd will reach a fork, and Devin will be blessed. but that's just me.


Favourite character, as it stands, is Alais for the female choice, for her stark contrast to the other female characters, for her silent intelligence and introspectiveness. Dianora is second because of her inner struggle between her heart and her duty, and I empathised with her, at least to begin with. =( Males; Devin, which I wasn't going to say but then I had to, because he is awesome. c: I love his incredibly vivid memory and his cleverness. Being the ignorant character who has to earn everything so that we as the reader can learn it too, I enjoyed going through the story with him as a focus. Second was a tricky pick, but in the end I always say Rovrigo because he has such a big heart and he is my Constant for this novel.

Favourite antagonist has to be Brandin, although Alberico is not too far behind. I love Brandin's complexity and demonstration that a although he has many likeable traits, he can be capable of great evil. I like Abrico's ruthlessness and unpredictable rage, and also the constant reminder of the lasting effects of overusing magic. That was really good.


My sister and I had a mini discussion - she said she thought the women in the novel were pointless - Alienor, Catriana, Alias, Dianora. None of them had any remarkable talents of skills, none of them a huge contribution to the story. I disagreed - one could say the same about Devin. I think the point was the unity, each person played their part. Although I agreed with her about Dianora - she did sometimes seem just like a window into Brandin's life. Not at first, but after the pointless ring dive, I began to lose faith in her character.

The next thing; my sister believed that the fight for Tigana wasn't as moving because there wasn't even anything great about it. It wasn't a great nation and it didn't have a signature.  I disagreed. It is important because the royal family are descendants of Micaela, if I got that right. That was all I could think of, but for me its even more powerful because Tigana isn't 'some great nation'. When small things are eradicated and no-one cares, for me it's in a way more tragic than when great nations fall.

The Verdict

3 Sha's.

Again, dithering between three and four. I am more conflicted about this story than I've been about a book in ages. But despite a great story and a lasting message, there were too many holes, sadly not in the story but in narration. The storytelling was unsatisfying in a lot of ways, and it wasn't helped by the reluctances to give any of the characters closure at the end. But despite all of my pokes and prods (Sorry Kay =/ ), I am glad I read the book and I know it will stay in my head for quite some time.

Fantasy Food For Thought

This is becoming on of my favourite blog features! =D So, how did Tigana inspire me in terms of writing fantasy?

One thing that immediately sticks out is bringing a culture to life, and one method of doing so being religion and produce. The characters drink Khav every five seconds like it's tea. (I love my tea, no lie.) There is the iconic blue wine, which is not only a cultural symbol but for some of the characters, spiritual. There appear to be three main gods - Eanna, Adeon and Morian, and they are prayed to for different things. Morian is always spoken of in relation to death - similar to how Ankou is mentioned in my novel, though nowhere near as often because my protagonist is the main one who has that belief. Cultural festivals or holy days like the Ember Days or the Ring Dive is also a powerful because even those who do not believe in the legends or the fables will not act against the rites that take place.

Another thing I thought about in this novel is Cause and Effect. I find this important because in Fantasy novels, sometimes the focus is so much on the Kings and the magic and the dragons that the basic, gripping storytelling techniques are forgotten about, and I sometimes find that they are clearer in other genres, like Crime. For example, for Alessan's plan to defeat Brandin to work, he has to manufacture a series of Causes that will have the desired effects to eventually get Brandin where he wants him. As the character viewpoints shift, the reader often sees the effect first, before the cause, and that is what creates intrigue and suspense. Like Alberico being disturbed by the woman who commited suicide. We learned later that the cause was Catriana trying to provoke a resonse from the public, but that is after we see the widespread effect it has caused. I've got a lot to think about.

...I want to write my book now.

Ashana Lian .

A.S. Next up, another book of my own choosing...  A Natural History Of Dragons! I am indeed EXCITED for this one!
A.S.S. Man, time is flying by. I want to read so many books by the time I turn 22, not enough time!


  1. Did I say it was amazing?! Hmmm... don't remember that! lol It was a very good book that was powerful in many ways but as you have said; a lot of things let it down.

    An interesting review. I stand by my points though! And I do actually think that Devin was a bit pointless, and there as a buffer/window as well. It annoyed me that he suddenly took on the fight after having only learned about it for five minutes. If Catriana had actually died when she went off and did her own ''I must save everyone' stunt then I would have appreciated her more. Same with window-eyes, 'in fact I won't drown myself' Dianora. Seems like Kay felt his characters were too precious to kill . I mean in the entire book who dies in the main cast?! Isn't this a war???!! That's one thing you can't say about GRRM! I do agree with you that the fight for Tigana shouldn't be made to seem insignificant because it isn't a massively great nation but I kind of felt there was no real result of freeing it from Brandin... So what if they are descendants of Mic? If they are not remembered, why is it SO bad? What are the devastating worldly repercussion of that? Places get wiped out in war all the time. It's not like every single person was swiped out. The stakes simply weren't high enough for me.

    Anyway, rant over. I do also love the cultural aspects of the story and the actual story has some fantastic turns and twists that keeps you gripped. I wasn't so effected by the grammar and story-telling issues, though it did annoy me at times.

    I'm interested by the fact you are doing spoiler reviews.. won't that spoil it for people who have yet to read it?

    1. Very very interesting. Thanks for commenting!

      I hate to say it, but I also feel that I would have appreciate if Catriana had died and Dianora had lived, because Catriana wasn't particularly significant, and Dianora hadn't faced any repercussions for her actions. I feel bad for saying it, but it's true!

      Yeeeeahhh I did wonder about the spoiler thing, but eventually I felt it was more beneficial as spoiler reviews are less common, and if you HAVE read the book then I think interesting debate topics are raised (like yours above. =] ) Also, some people have no intention of reading some of the books I review but might be happy to spend 5-10 minutes finding out what they missed. Most importantly, though, non-spoiler reviews would mean I'd have to censor things that relate directly to fantasy storytelling, and I think they're significant enough to include them.

      Thanks again for commenting! As you raised George RR Martin, here is an article on Fantasy Faction that I think you will find interesting.


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