Every Monday, I'll be doing spoiler-free book reviews.
It's only recently that I've been discovering Guy Gavriel Kay, gobbling up the books people recommend such as the Lions of Al-Rassan and avoiding the reputedly not-so-enjoyable ones. Tigana was one of the books highly recommend although obtaining a copy was ever elusive. I finally managed to acquire Tigana--purchasing it without hesitation--and it didn't disappoint.
There are several things going for Kay. First is that the novel is working with a big concept, that of memory and history. It is the shadow that haunts every character for good or for ill and I think Kay manages to strike a balance between the two. The second is the characterization and this in my opinion has always been Kay's strength. For a book published in the 90's, it has so much depth and complexity that many modern writers are trying to emulate. The protagonists are well-rounded and while they are noble, they are not without flaws. The antagonists are fleshed out and do not suffer from the evil overlord syndrome but are characters--even sympathetic characters--in their own right. The third is that this is easily a fantasy epic narrated in the span of one novel. It begins with a large cast of characters and some seemingly unimportant events but Kay manages to wrap it all up and tie it together in the last 100 pages or so. Fourth, the prose is endearing. Kay is no Ellen Kushner or Patricia McKillip, but he is a cut above most writers and more importantly, his story doesn't need to be told in such a melodic form. However, Kay does sprinkle in some poetic irony whenever he can and it gives the novel that extra layer. Fifth, there is magic in the book and it's somewhere in between Gandalf the Gray's subtle machinations and Fizban's fireball. Its presence is undeniable but it is neither flashy nor obvious. People who enjoy fantasy because of the unique magic system of fictional cultures might want to give this book a look for Kay's unique take.
Having said all that, is there nothing not to like? Well, the book is quite thick and might daunt unfamiliar readers. The novel also begins with different points of view and seemingly unrelated characters but once you manage to glean over that, it all starts coming together. Tigana is not an easy read but neither is it difficult. Overall, the novel has adult sensibilities and I'd like to think you don't need to be a fan of fantasy to enjoy this book. Tigana is easily a classic, one of the best fantasy epics I've read in quite a while.