Friday, 13 January 2012

Review: Tigana, by Guy Gavriel Kay

I got this after a number of people recommended it. Tigana’s a stand-alone fantasy book in which magic is important but not common, and which takes place in a fictional world.

The story unfolds in The Palm, a peninsula of nine provinces, which has been carved up between two tyrants, each of which act as the other’s counterweight. It follows a group who seek to free The Palm from the tyrants. That’s a rather threadbare summary, but one of the best parts of the book is when unexpected turns and new information comes to light, and I’d prefer not to risk spoiling anything.

It took me rather by surprise. There’s a lot more exposition than I expected, and relatively less dialogue/action (though there’s still some). The author’s quite content to have occasional flashback scenes and spend time building up events and moments of import, and the effect is to mean that, whilst the book doesn’t have lashings of blood, it does have characters that are deeper than is usual.

What’s pleasing about the longer explanations and descriptions is that they serve a point. It’s not a case of info-dumping masses of irrelevant detail or presenting the reader with a wall of text enlivened only by the odd brick of interest. The exposition relates to the motivation of characters and the meaning of situations, adding to the depth of the book.

I won’t give away the ending, but I was wondering if there would be enough space to see it resolved in a realistic rather than deus ex machina way, and was pleasantly surprised by the final twist.

In summary, it’s a book that relies less on blood-spattered adrenaline and more on realistic and enjoyable characters. The tyrants are particularly well-done, (they aren’t carbon copies of one another), and I was slightly staggered to find myself thoroughly devouring the chapters about the romance between one tyrant and one of his concubines.

After finishing the book I searched but it seems that there’s no more books in the world of The Palm (as yet, anyway). Mr. Kay seems to have a penchant for historical inspiration (I’ve downloaded the sample of a book set in a Byzantine-style world) so I may well end up reading more of his stuff.


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