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Tigana

September 21, 2009

“This is one of those stories in which the very extremes of human emotion can tear the reader apart.”

Said the review on Amazon.com. My own impression was something more along the lines of meh. I’d give this book maybe a 3 or a 4 on the Richter scale, you know, the sort of earthquake that rattles the windows a bit, and people who felt it can talk about it for the next day or two (I’m from California originally.)

The premise for the book is really a pretty cool curse. While King Brandin is conquering the western half of the Peninsula of the Palm, his son dies in battle in Tigana, one of the Palm’s greatest provinces. Brandin extracts revenge from the Tiganans by obliterating the province’s name. Nobody from outside of the province will be able to hear it when the word “Tigana” is spoken. Pretty sweet, huh?

Unfortunately, the book is marred. I can see where the Amazon reviewer got the “very extremes of human emotion can tear the reader apart.” Every two or three pages, it seems, some character or another is falling passionately in love, railing at the injustice of the Tigana curse, getting his or her heart broken, having a life-altering revelation, or getting brutally murdered. It all adds up to I can’t believe any of these characters, and believe me, there are dozens of them. And Guy Gavriel Kay finds it necessary to tell us the life story of all of them, in lengthy backstory.

Here’s an example of the histrionics these characters get into:

“Erlein was literally shaking with fury. Devin looked at him and it was as if a curtain had been drawn back. In the wizard’s eyes hatred and terror vied for domination. His mouth worked spasmodically. He raised his left hand and pointed it at Alessan in a gesture of violent negation.”

Alessan had just bound the wizard to his will using some very old magic. How about shock? Disbelief? No, Erlein pitches a hissy fit before he even learns the stipulations of his binding.

I quit about halfway through, after the third or fourth unnecessary sex scene. I did, however, skim through the ending out of curiosity. There is an impressive casualty rate on a par with Hamlet or Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which probably would tear me apart had I actually cared about any of these people. Okay, I cared about Tomasso. But he doesn’t play an active role after about the first fifth of the book.

I’m sad to say that this book is better than most of its brethren. Kay is original in that his story is set in an upside-down wannabe medieval Italy instead of wannabe medieval England, some of the characters are (gasp!) gay, and there is no clearly definable Dark Lord. But how can I trust an author who uses the phrase “river of tears” in a non-facetious manner?

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