And I just found a new one in my very favorite genre.
“There are no wrong turnings. Only paths we had not known we were meant to walk.”
I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that I’ve read hundreds of fantasy books in my lifetime. I’ve taken so many adventures through extravagantly strange worlds with casts of immensely varied characters on a multitude of nigh impossible quests. Fantasy is a genre that never gets old for me, because there’s no limit to what the human imagination can spawn onto a page. That doesn’t mean that every single fantasy book I read is a hit for me. I’ve had disappointments. But my first foray into the writings of Guy Gavriel Kay was definitely not a disappointment. I think I’ve found a new favorite author.
“Language. The process of sharing with words seemed such a futile exercise sometimes.”
GGK has an exquisite way with words. My favorite fantasies are always those with breathtaking prose, and GGK delivers that is spades with Tigana. But the lovely language is just a vehicle for the amazing story he has crafted. In a world where magic is very real, what happens when an entire land and people are torn from their name, and to what lengths will they go to recover that identity? That is the central plot of the book, but there is so much more to the story. What truly defines you? How important is a name? When does seeking vengeance cross a line and become not worthy of its cost? Where does the line between love and loyalty break, and which wins in your heart? Is a dream worth sacrificing not just your life, but your quality of life? Is it easier to die for a dream than live without it? There were so many deep questions raised here. Philosophy and religion are always one of my favorite aspects of fantasy worlds, and both were very well developed here.
“Words were power, words tried to change you, to shape bridges of longing that no one could ever really cross.”
There is such a beautiful, eclectic cast of characters in this book. And they all have so much personality and depth. Devin, a young man with the voice of an angel but the face of a child, is my very favorite character. I also loved Alessan, Baerd, Catriana, Alais, Dionara, and a couple of others whose names I can’t even use because they’re almost spoilers. I will say this, though: I appreciate so much how GGK made his characters gray instead of black and white. Even the characters who were supposedly “bad” had so many redeeming qualities. Except for Alberico. He was just a douche. But every character had understandable motivations, and it was nearly impossible to choose a side. I loved that. Because people are nuanced and deep and almost never see themselves as evil, and it takes a really great author to get that point across in his work.
“In this world, where we find ourselves, we need compassion more than anything, I think, or we are all alone.”
Because GGK was able to make the vast majority of his characters so sympathetic, reading this book was an incredibly emotional experience for me. Seriously, I was reading through tears for hundreds of pages. There was just something about the way GGK strung together his prose and plot that resonated deeply with me, and moved me more than most fantasy novels are able to. I was profoundly invested in the story and the characters and the fate the Palm as a whole and Tigana in particular. The ending was beautiful and devastating, and I’m still trying to come to terms with the amount of both joy and sadness it inspired within me.
On last thing I loved about this book: the importance of hope. Even when things looked dire, even when people were devastated or torn, there was hope. The worldview felt so bright, even in the midst of despair. I don’t know exactly what GGK believes, but I feel like he has to believe in something in order to create a world this broken that still has so much room for hope.
If this level of craftsmanship is what I can expect from the rest of GGK’s catalogue, I will be reading every book penned by him I’m able to get my little hands on. I heartily recommend it to any fan of high fantasy.