Richard's Reviews > Tigana

Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay
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Sep 11, 14

bookshelves: bookclub, fantasy, fantasy-magic, fantasy-epic, top-ten
Recommended to Richard by: SciFi & Fantasy Group 2009-05 Fantasy Selection
Read in June, 2009

This was the Fantasy selection for the Goodreads SciFi and Fantasy Book Club for the month of May 2009. Visit this link to see all of the discusions, group member reviews, etc.

If Goodreads had half-stars, I would have dropped this to only 4-1/2, but more on that below.

Tigana is among the handful of fantasy novels that can make me wonder whether Tolkien is as good as I remember him, or as good as his reputation. It has been many years since I read Lord of the Rings, and I almost never re-read books, so I might never find out. Perhaps Tolkien is like Shakespeare -- it is easy to convince oneself that it is just hype, that he really can't be all that astonishingly good; but I've been through that and know, to paraphrase Robert Graves, that Shakespeare is all he's cracked up to be in spite of the praise. But is Tolkien, or did he just grab our affection before there was any real competition?

I don't know, but I can say I'll be reading more of Guy Gavriel Kay. His plot is adequately convoluted, his characters are deliciously subtle and complelling, there's a frisson of romance and a soupçon of eroticism.

A particular delight is that his palette is not just in black and white, but contains many shades of gray. Most obviously there is the contrast between the two sorcerers: while they start out as equivalent tyrannical villains, as we learn more about them they diverge, one to capture our unwilling affection while his opponent remains the object of disdain and disgust. Another character struggles to become an avenger, only to unwillingly fall in love with the target of that vengeance.

Even as Kay provides us with satisfyingly adult complexities, the story retains tension and drive. Have you ever found yourself carefully covering the next, facing page so your glance doesn't pick up a stray verb or adjective and spoil the suspense? If you do, that will happen in this book.

My only quibble is that Kay chose to portray as real some creatures that I would have preferred dealt with as mythological; or that he had simply figured out how to eliminate. The riselka was one, the other-world creatures that the night walkers face are the others. The absence of elves, orcs, goblins, etc., was welcome — this tale would have been even stronger if it had retained a purely human context.

P.S.: If any readers are seeking other fantasy novels that rise to the Tolkien summit, I can recommend Alphabet of Thorn by Patricia A. McKillip.

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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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Brad This is the key to my enjoyment of Tigana, and you nailed it perfectly, Richard: "A particular delight is that his palette is not just in black and white, but contains many shades of gray. Most obviously there is the contrast between the two sorcerers: while they start out as equivalent tyrannical villains, as we learn more about them they diverge, one to capture our unwilling affection while his opponent remains the object of disdain and disgust."

Good review. Did you catch in the big discussion the interesting tidbit that Kay actually helped Christopher Tolkien compile and complete JRR Tolkien's Silmarillion? It is particularly interesting to note considering the plateau you place Kay on.


Richard That was actually in the "About the author" note at the back of the edition I read, and yes -- it seems his ability has been recognized by others as well :-)

I'm just now clicking through the weeks-old discussion. I got caught up in other things and am far behind in the group's readings...


message 3: by D. (new) - rated it 4 stars

D. Pow great book, great review.


Richard It was just pointed out to me that Guy Gavriel Kay was a disciple of Dorothy Dunnett, who wrote the The Game of Kings (first in a double series of sixteen books). That series is a non-fantasay historical adventure, but has similar elements of intrigue and moral ambiguity. Fans of GGK should look into DD.


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