Friday, November 27, 2009

Review: Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay

Book Info: Tigana. Fantasy Novel. Stand alone. 676 pages. First published 1999. Tenth Anniversary Edition with an afterward by the author.

Author Info: Guy Gavriel Kay, Canadian novelist, poet, and lawyer. Other books: The Fionavar Tapestry: The Summer Tree, The Wandering Fire, The Darkest Road, The Sarantine Mosaic: Sailing to Sarantium, Lord of Emporers, Last Light of the Sun, A Song for Arbonne, Ysabel, Under Heaven(forthcoming). Was retained by the JRR Tolkien Estate to assist in the editing and publishing of The Silmarillion. Website:

Plot Summary: Prior to the events of the novel two rival kingdoms invade a peninsula composed of independent city states. Each of the invading armies is led by a powerful wizard who uses magic as well as strategy, and political subversion to ensure the conquered populace do not rise up. One of the wizards/rulers, Brandin, lost a son in subjugation of the peoples. He then laid a curse on that province, Tigana, to be removed from the memory of men. Tigana can not be heard by outsiders, nor can anyone outside the province recall anything of the inhabitants. The inhabitants remember but cannot speak of their past. They are cursed to watch as time slowly erases their history and culture from the minds of the world.

The story opens with a cast of characters who seek to rise up and remove not only the curse but the invaders and their armies. They include a former prince, a troubador in a well respected performing troupe, an actress, a wizard, a former stone mason and an exiled and disguised Duke. The novel follows their attempts to free the people of the palm, the name for the peninsula, from the invaders.

Analysis: Tigana has set a standard for what a fantasy novel can do. It is at the same time a sound political commentary on the attempt to rewerite history by a conqueror, as it is a psychological study of revolutionaries who decide to remove an invader though life itself has changed little. In fact, in some ways, life improved. There is an inventiveness, combined with a musical ear for well turned poetic phrases that resonate long after a reading.

As I delved further into the book I found that I compared this novel often with Abercrombie's First Law Trilogy, and Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire. In both those books a cynics worldview prevails and any attempt to pursue a noble or high minded goal is quickly ridiculed, and often fails. While both books are to me a true presentation of the way life is and humans treat each other, I found Tigana to be genuinely tragic, in a way that the previously mentioned series were not. In Tigana, there are no simple classification of good guys and bad guys either, but nor is there the assumption that all men are, to quote Jean Paul Sartre "bastards and liars." The invaders are portrayed with insight, realism and human motivation so much so that as readers we find that we can't necessarily call up the hatefulness we feel is appropriate response to their actions.

The magic system in Tigana was unique and did not read like it was culled from the pages of a Dungeons and Dragons Guide. There were several scenes which jumped out for sheer inventiveness: an archer/assasin who uses a bow from which hangs a lock of his victims hair, the night walkers, their battles, and most especially the binding of wizards to princes.
A fantasy novel with not just heart, but intelligence and excellent characterization. I am now going to read all his books.

Similar Reads: For theme, the dangers of the past and its curse of the present: Ysabel, by Kay; Old Mortality, by Sir Walter Scott. For poetic magic: The Name of the Wind, by Pat Rothfuss. The Curse of Chalion, by Lois McMaster Bujold.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Buried Treasure

So yesterday I'm at my Mom's helping her reassemble the house after the work crews have finished putting down the new floor tile. They had to do the closests as well as the regular spaces, so many things were boxed up that I hadn't seen in years: old clothes, weightlifting gear, hunting equipment, and a box of very old books. Among them was the above volume.

Can you believe it? Robert Jordan. A Conan novel from 1982. Little did I know.

I have a dim recollection of reading the book. Im almost positive I bought it at a Waldens. I was in junior high and going through a Conan phase. One of my cousins had sent me the entire set of Conan stories edited by L Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter and I was hungry for more. I remember being dismissive of the cheap imitations. Yeah, I really thought that: cheap imitations. If I'd only known.

When I finish the wheel of time catch up Im going to reread the book. See if I can glean any hints of the masterpiece to come.

Its interesting to me now that Jordan learned his craft with the Conan books. I remember shortly after beginning the Wheel of Time series that he had publised several Conan novels. This greatly surprised me because the wheel of time was such a vast and complicated tapestry whereas the Conan books were a ready made world. I then thought that Jordan had been slumming in the Conan world. But an older and hopefully wiser me imagines that he learned a lot about characterization, plot, structure and constructing novels from the experience.

I remember reading an article where Neil Gaiman described one of the most formative writing experiences he had was a series of Batman comics when he was younger. He said it taught him a lot about characterization because he had to take this well known character and find a way to bring him to life beyond the usual cliché's.

I want to read the Conan Chronicles to see how Jordan did this. Just looked on Amazon and have added all Jordan's Conan books to my wish list.

As if I didn't have enough to read. I wonder if the above book has a value now that Jordan is so famous? Probably though I am skeptical. I doubt I'll part with it regardless. Not so much sentimental value, as it is a symbol of closure, of having come full circle
I know the quality of the above pic is fuzzy but its the best one I could find online.

Monday, November 2, 2009

October Reading

-The Land of the Silver Apples, Nancy Farmer, YA Fantasy novel, 496 pages

-The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz, novel, 335 pages

-Existentialism is a Humanism, Jean Paul Sartre, philosophy, 91 pages

-This is Me, Jack Vance, Jack Vance, biography, 189 pages

-Crossroads of Twilight, Robert Jordan, fantasy novel, 822 pages

Another poor reading month. Sheesh. I cant seem to get back into my reading groove. For November: getting up to date with the wheel of time series. More Sartre(he doesn't depress me, instead I see more options in life after reading him). I'm also in the mood for historical fiction. Buying a car this month has temporarily wiped out my book money cache. Which means I read what's been lying around. Speaking of which the stack of books on my desk is so tall it has a gangster lean. There is also the local library, but that means paying off fines. Just a sample of the books waiting to be read that I own: The House of the Stag, If On a Winter's Night a Traveller, The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative, Lavinia, Selected Short Stories of Dickens, Essays in Existentialism. And though I blush to admit it, The Malazaan series up to Reaper's Gale. Ive only reached the middle of Gardens of the Moon. Also, Best Served Cold, which because of the upcoming release of Assasin's Creed 2, I feel like reading.