It took me 20 years to finally read Tigana. Israel in the 90’s (and especially) Jerusalem did not have a wealth of geeky things for a nerdy teen to enjoy. There was some book, mostly SciFi classics, Tolkien and Dragonlance. There was Dungeons & Dragons, but good luck finding dices. There was also the early internet, and I was lucky enough to have some family friends who lived in America and could help my needs by occasionally sending me reading materials (mostly books) that I just couldn’t get anywhere else.
This why I have a copy of Tigana
I was 14 years old, and I already read every fantasy book which was available in Hebrew and was looking in the internet for any other recommended books. At that time, there was a few sites which listed the best fantasy books ever written, and majority of them either had Tigana as number 1 or one of the top five best book.
So, I bought it, or rather a friend in America bought it and sent it to my parents, and a few other recommended books on those lists (which included The Wheel of Time Series, so they were slightly dubious in hindsight). I got the book, put in on the shelf, and never read it (I am not a 100% sure it even moved over the years, it might just have stayed at the same spot for almost 20 years, waiting for me to read it)
Earlier this month, I finally visited my parents after avoiding Israel for a few years, and for some reason decided to take my copy of the book with me back to Canada and maybe try and finally read it.
So, before I give a more detailed review, I will just say: While there are some issues with it, overall, I really liked Tigana. I also think reading it in my mid 30’s instead of reading it when I was 14 was a very good choice as I think the theme of the book resonates with you a lot more when you are older.
Tigana is a pseudo-historical epic fantasy book about memory, rebellion and trying to bring back something which was lost. The story is set in The Palm, a fictional version of Renaissance Italy, a country dividing into warring city states, which 20 years earlier was besieged and conquered by two powerful sorcerers. The story centers around a group of rebels from Tigana, a city state which incurred the wrath of Brandin the King of Ygrath, a powerful sorcerer, by their prince killing his beloved son in battle. In return, Brandin not only destroyed Tigana, but also used him magic to erase its name and history. The only people who can remember Tigana are people who were born there before the war.
Tigana deals with a few theme, but the main one, the theme of memory and trying to regain something which was lost really resonate with me. As someone who grow up in a place where memories of the past and the need to preserve those memories and as someone who parts of her family comes from a group whose culture almost vanished (Iraqi Jews) this theme has a powerful impact. An impact that I am not sure would have been as effective when I was younger. Couple it with Kay’s very lyrical flowery proses, I found myself immensely enjoying the read.
Other things I liked:
- The fact that Tigana cause is never shown as completely righteous and the people of Tigana are often are mentioned as prideful really works with creating some more complexity to the themes of the book.
- Alessan is a good anti-hero protagonist and despite some of the less heroic deeds he occasionally preforms, you get a good sense why he is a good leader and why people follow him. It especially works because we rarely actually see his point of view, instead we are told about him from the point of view of others
- The over melodramatic behavior and flowery language really works in this book, and somewhat fit with Renaissance Italy and how we perceive it
- The rebels action of destabilizing the rules of the tyrants vs. going to open warfare (or even guerrilla warfare) is interesting and unexpected.
- There are several hints (and sometime not so much as hints) that the tyrants, and specifically Brandin, are actually pretty good rulers (if you follow their rules). That works well with us needing to occasionally ask ourselves if the rebels rebellion is more about their pride then saving their home
- It is a standalone epic fantasy, a thing I seriously wish I got to read more.
Thing I really didn’t like:
- Kay doesn’t know how to write women, like really doesn’t. While some of it isn’t awful, Dianora is the worst and I couldn’t feel any sympathy for her.
- That also meant that I just didn’t care much about Brandin, he is supposed to be this interesting anti-villain, but I nothing about him was particularly sympathetic and I don’t really care how much he likes his son (to an absurd degree) and how much Dianora loves him.
- The sex, while not really graphic, feels gratuitous and overall unpleasant. While Kay talks about sex has a theme for the book, especially uncomfortable sex, nothing about it felt necessary.
- The all evil women priest country and the good guy who killed them didn’t really work for me (again mostly due to the fact the Kay can’t write women)
- Men can be ugly or just plain looking, but the women are all blindly beautiful (and young)
- The random love story shoved in the end of the book between two characters we never saw any specific interaction which might suggest them falling in love
- There are two openly queer characters in the book, they both die in a gruesome way
Thing I am meh about:
- I wish there was a bit more explanation/clarity about how the magic of the tyrant work (or any of the wizards for that matter). Aside from the spell Brandin used to erase Tigana, most of the magic in the book is not described in details (or not described at all). It is especially noticeable in the last battle in the book, where you have all this magic but also it’s not very clear what they are actually doing
- The Ember Night sequence, while interesting, felt out of place
- The Riselka were interesting but that is about all I can say about them
- The book is very slow, I didn’t mind it but it does slog in the middle
It is a very good book and an interesting examination of historical fantasy but has some serious problems when it comes to gender and sex. If you don’t like slow books with a lot of melodrama, don’t read it