Monday, September 11, 2006



Guy Gavriel Kay

  —   12.57   —   Book

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Fiction, Fantasy

This is the sort of book that tears your heart out.

It is a tale with deeply woven elements of politics, war, tyranny, memory, and the meaning of freedom. And love. One cannot forget love.

The story starts in a land under foreign rule, split by two sorcerous tyrants. Four provinces lie under the rule of Alberico of Barbadior, a conqueror whose ultimate goal is to become Emperor of his homeland, and four lie under the rule of Brandin, King of Ygrath, who came to the Palm to carve out a kingdom for his younger son.

His younger son, who was killed in the invasion.

As Brandin is a sorceror, and ruler of a kingdom of military might, his reprisal is extraordinarily harsh. He smashes the cities of the responsible province, burns their books, destroys their art, and kills women and children before placing the province under heavy military rule.

And then, using sorcery, he strips away their name. Those who were not born in the province before Brandin came cannot hear the name, or read the name. And when those who can are dead, there will be no one left who can remember anything of the land before the fall. It is the reality of Shelley's poem Ozymandias within a generation, and the survivors know all too well what will happen.

Names are power, as we sometimes forget. Language shapes our reality; those things we have no words for are difficult to believe in.

This novel opens almost twenty years after the invasion. The provinces have grown used to oppression, and barely know what it is to dream of freedom; a misstep can lead to torture and death in this land. Yet there are a few members of the renamed province (called Lower Corte after their old enemies) who have been working to bring the Tyrants down - if they kill Brandin, their name is restored but their land is lost to Alberico; if Alberico dies, Brandin would be all but impossible to kill. The only path is to bring the two to war, a path that has been years in the making, a path whose success depends upon the tiniest of things.

To truly make a tragedy of epic proportions, we are introduced to Brandin through the eyes of a young survivor who came to his court in order to kill him. Her whole life has become an elaborate deception, but eventually she has to come to terms with the fact that she has fallen in love with him, because he is a man who is educated, intelligent, and caring - and a man who is no stranger to power. (One wonders what sort of person he would have been had he not been so powerful; one of the tragedies of the novel is that one can wonder, but the reality is brutal.) She has to deal with the fact that her two goals are opposed to one another: freedom for her country and happiness with the man she loves.

And as all the elements begin to come together, it becomes evident that there is no happy ending; people will die before the end, good people who are following good causes, and innocents, along with people who truly might deserve death. And it is then that you can truly see the struggles that define a good leader, and one who wonders about the morality of his actions. Because sometimes, the obvious is not the whole of the thing, and a concubine to a tyrant can be something more than a traitor to her people, and a war where good people die can be the only path to healing.

"Do you want freedom to be easy, Erlein bar Alein? Do you think it drops like acorns from trees in the fall?"

In a land long oppressed, the truth is that everything has a price. And for the characters of Tigana, the price is heavy - but, one can hope, well worth it.

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