Book Review – Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay

“Tigana, let my memory of you be like a blade in my soul.”


Have you ever ripped through the first half of a book only to find yourself slowing down toward the end? Not because you’ve lost interest, but because you know the story will end and you’re afraid you know how it’s going to end and you fret for the characters you’ve grown to love?

Guy Gavriel Kay’s Tigana is such a book, though I won’t spoil things and tell you if the ending met those expectations.

I was lucky enough to find a used copy at my local Friends of the Library for fifty cents. I feel like I need to send Kay a check to make up the difference of its true value, because there is so much in this book for both readers and writers.

Before I gush much more, I will say it’s not a perfect book and it’s not for every reader, but it’s damn close to the first and I believe attractive to both fantasy and historical fiction buffs.

Yes, the pace sometimes slows down and there are bouts of repetitive introspection. But even with walls of text, the realistic history of this fictional world is so intriguing that the pages never stop turning.

The Palm, a peninsula of quarrelsome provinces, finds itself at the mercy of two competing superstates each led by a powerful sorcerer. Twenty years prior to the book’s opening chapter, the province of Tigana rose up to challenge one of them, Brandon of Ygrath, killing his son and incurring a wrath that has nearly obliterated Tigana’s identity from the realm’s collective memory.


Now, Tigana’s sons and daughters are putting events into motion in order to bring the name back and restore what once was.

Tigana is supposed to be modeled after the fractious city-states of medieval Italy. The worldbuilding is beyond reproach, deftly colored with music, religion, politics, and history. I read somewhere on the Internet that Kay takes his sweet time writing books and may indeed have rooms packed to the ceiling with research material.

After finishing the book, I don’t doubt either statement. I also felt a niggling suspicion that George R.R. Martin has a worn out copy sitting on his nightstand. It did come out several years before Game of Thrones and I see a lot of similarities in style.

Tigana has a lot to teach a writer. There’s not just a breadth of characters here but so much depth to each one; yet that depth is never explored at the expense of a solid story structure. Kay’s characters all have strong goals and equally strong motives. Tension is constantly rising toward the main climax. Subplots tie neatly in to the overall storyline. Major characters follow interesting arcs. Then there are the themes of memory and identity which sit comfortably all the way through.

One of Kay’s more interesting techniques is to lead the reader into thinking someone or something is as it seems, then cleverly revealing that someone or something is entirely different soon after. Yet, the twist makes complete logical sense.

I’ve already begun a second reading and analysis so I can peel back the onion skin hiding the author’s tricks.

For some sad reason there is no Kindle version available, but maybe that is rightly so. Tigana seems better served with paper and glue. If a new copy costs too many nickels, please try to find a used one. You’ll be glad you did.


0 thoughts on “Book Review – Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay

  1. I’ve had more than a few people recommend this book to me and your review just pushed it over the edge. I’m ordering it right now! Thanks Phillip!

    1. You will not be disappointed Lauren! If you don’t like it, I will pay for your copy. 🙂

  2. I love Guy Gavriel Kay’s writing. Tigana was the first standalone book of his I read after the Fionavar Tapestry trilogy and it blew me away. He then followed up with my favourite of his books, The Lions of Al-Rhassan and A Song for Arbonne, which are fantastic. There is such depth of emotion in his writing you cannot help but fall in love with the characters. If you haven’t read any of his other works, I cannot recommend them highly enough.

    1. Thanks for the great comment, Dylan. You can bet that I’ll be picking up the rest of his work. Tigana was truly amazing and I’ve heard nothing but good things about his other novels. Are there any similar writers you could recommend? Not that I don’t have enough books in my TBR pile. 😉

      1. Hmmm. That’s a tough one. I can’t think of any other writer in his field that has the same humanity in their writing. For science fiction I would recommend Iain M Banks. His prose is a very different style but he too focusses on the human, even if it’s present in something that is anything but. Start with Consider Phlebas.

        1. Ah okay, another writer I’ve heard good things about. Adding Consider Phlebas to my list. Thanks Dylan!

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