Tigana is a rarity in modern fantasy, not only for the fact that it is an entire story contained in one volume. There are several other fantasy molds it dares to break, and as a result, it provides a refreshing change of pace from the standard quest fantasy that pervades the science-fiction/fantasy shelves in the bookstores today. But with these innovations, one has to accept a few failings of the story as well.
One of the best things about the book is that finally, at long last, we are given a villain that is not a cardboard cutout evil sorcerer. In fact, we are presented with two villains of the piece, and each is unique in his vileness. On the one side, the sorcerer Alberico is a sick, twisted individual whose evil rests on the motivation of his ambition to the throne of his native land. Alberico is contemptible, but at the same time pitiable in the way circumstances seem so far beyond his control and his ambition. Brandin, the sorcerer from the other kingdom, and Alberico’s rival, is a sympathetic villain, powerful and controlling, yet not wholly evil. We see a great deal of his human side and in the end, respect him even as we hope for his downfall. This dual opposition keeps the reader rapt in the story, devouring the book to see just where it goes.
And if the villains are complex, the heroes are doubly so. Each character finds his or her own story arc, and the right and wrong of their goals are constantly questioned. That good and evil are not so clear cut is unusual for a fantasy novel, and Mr. Kay earns my respect for the boldness that it takes to write such a story. The main characters even question their own motivations for pursuing their goal, something we usually take for granted in such a tale.
Though this was a unique fantasy experience, I did find some drawbacks that detracted somewhat from the pleasure I derived. These points are relatively minor, and I can’t even describe them fully without giving away too much of the book. But one thing that I did find somewhat irritating was that the Heir of the lost province seemed too much of a superhero. He had too many exceptional abilities. In any other fantasy novel this probably wouldn’t seem exceptional, but the rest of Tigana gave me such high hopes that the “do-anything” characteristics of the heir made it difficult for me to accept. Other character problems were the inclusion of seemingly major characters that eventually came to so little that you have to wonder why Kay made them seem so important. There was also the inclusion of relatively major supporting characters that weren’t even introduced until fairly late in the book.
Also, there were too many shifts in the point-of-view. This is a flaw in the writing style, not the story, and many people wouldn’t really care, but I found it hard to follow when I didn’t know whose eyes I was seeing events through. Kay mostly managed to keep the shifts limited to separate sections, but in one place, he starts a section in one character’s point of view, then two paragraphs later makes an awkward shift to another.
All in all, the relatively minor flaws are worth working through in order to enjoy a book like Tigana. It was the best fantasy novel I’d read in ages, and has me eager to read more from the author, and more fantasy in general.
Chris’s Rating: 5 Gold Pieces
(This review originally appeared on Amazon.com here, where I actually gave it only 4 stars, but reconsideration and contemplation has raised its quality in my eyes.)
Get a copy of your own: