Last year, while I was waiting for my library copy of Guy Gavriel Kay’s new book, I decided to get myself in the mood by reading his most famous work: Tigana.
Well, I still haven’t gotten around to reading his newest book, but I think it was worth it for Tigana. It’s widely considered his masterpiece, and while it wasn’t my favorite of his works, there were scenes in this book that will stay with me for the rest of my life, and I think that’s about the highest praise I can give a book.
The story begins with a young bard, Devin, who’s been employed to sing for the funeral of a local Duke. He quickly stumbles into a conspiracy involving the overthrow of not one but two invading sorcerer kings, and a mysterious conquered province whose name has been erased from memory…Tigana.
Most of Kay’s works are what I would call historical fantasy; they are based on historical places, people, and events, but transported into a purely fantasy setting. Tigana takes place in an fantasy version of medieval or Renaissance Italy. If you look at the lovely maps included between the section breaks, you’ll see that the peninsula of the Palm looks very similar to Italy flipped upside-down. The world building is amazing, and the setting gives it a “classic” fantasy feel.
This is not a quick-paced book, but it has a wonderful style. Kay’s prose and tone has been an inspiration for my current WIP (and last year’s NaNoWriMo project), so I tried to study his effortless techniques in making the story feel both immediate and personal and yet epic. He often uses a kind of “two sentence foreshadowing” to give context for some event that is occurring, giving a brief tease as to how it will be viewed later by the characters or by history.
Even when I felt I knew where the story was going, I was still on the edge of my seat. And there were a couple of twists I didn’t see coming, especially a big one at the very end.
If you are interested in reading Kay, this is a great place to start! (I’d also recommend The Lions of Al-Rassan, set in fantasy Spain.)