Yet another proof that this re-reading thing really pays off and the confirmation that Tigana is still my favorite stand-alone fantasy novel, 10 years after the first read. This time around the experience was further improved by Simon Vance‘s most excellent narration.

(By the way, to all fantasy authors who still write stand-alones: thank you!)

There’s a lot for the grateful reader to sink his teeth on in Tigana, but the central topic is the subjugation of a people. The Peninsula of the Palm was invaded at the same time by two tyrants and sorcerers. The lack of unity among the Palm’s provinces made them easy targets and all were soon conquered and their territory divided among the two invaders.

One province stood out – Tigana. They were the last to fight back and in a decisive battle the son of the most powerful of the two tyrants was killed. He promised and delivered a terrible revenge: first he crushed them in the final battle and then, using his magic, he ensured that only people who were born in the province before the invasion could remember Tigana, its name, culture or history. Buildings were destroyed, music forgotten, books burned. Proud Tigana was now Lower Corte, a poor and minor province in the shadow of its neighbor (and former rival) Corte.

Now, twenty years after the invasions, a group of rebels led by Tigana’s heir have a plan to bring down the tyrants and break the spell. It is the province’s last chance before its name is forever wiped from history.

I don’t know about you, but I think this is one hell of a premise. The use of language during dictatorships and invasions has always fascinated me. Its direct link to identity, culture and sense of belonging makes it an extremely effective tool of subjugation, humiliation and consolidation. As Gavriel Kay explains in the Afterword:

When you want to subjugate a people – to erase their sense of themselves as separate and distinctive – one place to start (and it is sometimes enough) is with their language and names. Names link to history, and we need a sense of our history to define ourselves.

This book is a good argument against the nay-sayers convinced that fantasy books are detached from the real world. It’s impossible not to make parallels with past and present events.Lots of food for thought in

Tigana, but delivered in a way far from preachy or obvious. There’s lots of suspense, adventure, intrigue and romance. The characters, as I’ve come to expect from Gavriel Kay, are masterly built (he paid attention in the “show don’t tell” class), from the tyrants, to the rebel leader to the inn-keeper we meet only in one short scene.

It’s also very rewarding in its complexity: nothing is black-and-white, characters are never just the Heroes or the Villains and are often put in scenarios that seem like psychology case-studies where there’s never a clear win-win decision.

I plan to re-read The Fionavar Tapestry ( and maybe The Sarantine Mosaic) next year.

One of my favorite quotes:

He carried, like baggage, like a cart yoked to his shoulders, like a round stone in his heart, images of his people, their world destroyed, their name obliterated. Truly obliterated: a sound that was drifting, year by year, further away from the shores of the world of men, like some tide withdrawing in the grey hour of a winter dawn. Very like such a tide, but different as well, because tides came back.


Other thoughts: The Literay Omnivore, The Speculative Scotsmanjust add books, Fantasy Cafe, Only the Best Fantasy & Sci-fi, Ela’s Book Blog, Speculative Book Review, The Readventurer, Necromancy Never Pays, Doing Dewey (yours?)