Tigana has above all else a particular flavour. It has a unique atmosphere, built up of little nothings that suffice to make this fantasy world, baroque in inspiration and based on the Italian Renaissance, endearing. Tigana is also pervaded by a recurring nostalgia for a lost country and a time that has passed that we soon share with the characters. By what magic, since no reader has ever set foot in this land, nor even heard of it? We must believe that some writings are touched by grace, and that Guy Gavriel Kay has understood this secret, enabling him to give us a world that will remain forever in the memory of those who discover it.
All this with an economy of style fit to enrage the grand masters of fantasy literature who don’t scrimp on thirteen-legged monsters and fireballs. Kay is content to simply follow his characters; their depth and complexity are positively breathtaking. All of them carry their legacy; each are, logically, the result of their past. It seems an obvious thing to say, but with Kay, the weight of the past is treated with unusual care, which gives the story its poignant feelings of painful nostalgia.
Leaving behind several fantasy archetypes that are sometimes difficult to handle, Kay simply replaces the man usually in the centre of it all. This option allows him to focus extensively on the two main “bad guys” of the story, Alberico and Brandin. Of course, these two are tyrants, sorcerers to boot, but they remain indelibly human, marked by nuances, conflicts and doubts. Brandin, especially, is a remarkable figure; tortured, torn between contradictory feelings. If he’s on the side of the bad guys, it’s for a reason, and Kay explains how and why he ended up there. This also applies to all the other characters and it gives them a particularly strong and troubling palette of emotions. The feeling is compounded by the songs that are scattered throughout the text, songs that invite reflection and reveal even more of the troubled hearts.
Bah… Where’s the action? Not to worry, fans of noise and fury, there is plenty of action, in spite of a style that eschews vulgar blood-spatters in favour of a more dignified sobriety. With Kay, the importance is not in the moment the sword spits the enemy, but in what it took to get it there, and everything that flows from the action (excuse the pun).
Tigana is a wonderful tale that doesn’t hesitate to use hints of tragedy to tell a story of exile and wandering, of suffering and hatred, a story so human that the reader can’t help but liken it to real episodes of our own History.
With Tigana, fantasy writing has suddenly aged twenty years… with nary a wrinkle. Now, isn’t that magic?