There's been a lot of talk about Tigana in the decades since it was published. Guy Gavriel Kay is considered by most, especially most authors, to be one of the premier voices of fantasy fiction. That's possibly because he's one of the only people who can write with the depth and lyricism of Tolkien and get away with it. Let's face it, Tolkien barely got away with it and that's because he founded the genre.
I've read other books by Kay but over and over again I've read from other readers that if I haven't read Tigana, then I might as well never have bothered. So I started Tigana with unreasonably high hopes. It couldn't just be great, it had to be so fantastic that I would carry a hardcover of it to my grave. Okay, that's a little bit of an exaggeration, but there's a bit of truth in there.
So how did my unreasonably expectations meet up with reality? First it was a let down because it read just as well and beautifully as his other novels have. Then I got into it and let go of my expectations and just set out to enjoy a phenomenal read.
That's where I made the mistake. Tigana really is unlike his other books. It's not in the characters or execution, but in the concept. Kay dives deep into what nationality means to us. He made me question my own thoughts about it and the encounters that I had with people from other countries that I wasn't able to understand. In some ways Tigana will remain unparallelled because there will never again be an artist who questions so deeply in a genre that allows him so much freedom with the skills to give answers to the depth and breadth that is needed to satisfy the questions. He used fantasy in the way it is best able to be used- to ask questions that are too informatory to ask in the real world.
As an aspiring writer and a life-long people watcher I'm humbled by what I read. But what about the reader in me? The reader was less happy. This book is very, very dark. When your concepts are destruction of national identity, a stalemate war, and the insidious effects of slavery it's not going to be an easy read. So for the book of his that I re-read and suggest to others Tigana will probably be passed over in favor of Under Heaven or The Lion of Al-Rassan.