I’ve had this very long book for a very long time (not the edition shown, the first edition from 1990, couldn’t find a good image of that cover). One of those books that kept migrating to the bottom of my reading pile until I had time for it, and I finally did.
Kay creates an entire new fantasy world for this book, unconnected to his other books. It takes place in a large peninsula containing nine provinces that is reminiscent of medieval Italy. To the south over high mountains is a separate kingdom, and two others are east and west by sea, with a fourth by sea to the north. The Peninsula of the Palm, where the story takes place, is the site of a decades-long power struggle between two invading magicians, one from the eastern and one from the western kingdoms over the sea. Each of these men holds about half of the provinces with a single province still in dispute between them. The people native to this land are conquered people, but since the main wars of conquest are decades ago now, they have resumed much of the life they had before, with one exception. The province now called Lower Corte was the last to fall to the conquering King Brandin, and in the battle for it, Brandin’s son was slain. Brandin was so wounded and enraged by this that he used his troops to destroy every city in the province, and his magic to make even the original name of the province, Tigana, something that men from elsewhere cannot hear or say. The book is about some of the displaced and persecuted people of the former Tigana who have long plotted to regain their name and their freedom from both magicians. This complex plan has taken decades to bear fruit, and finally the time seems right.
Two main story lines focus on individuals caught in this mesh of intrigue and rebellion. Devin, a young singer trying to make a career with a troop of traveling players, and a new group he joins that are the leaders of the secret rebellion, and are soon traveling through the Palm gathering support while dodging enemies. Meanwhile, in the court of King Brandin, the beautiful courtesan Dianora struggles with her own divided feelings. Secretly a daughter of Tigana, she came to Brandin hoping to find a way to kill him, but instead has fallen in love with the magician king.
I enjoyed this book, though it moves slowly, at times too slowly. The first 150 pages of this 673 page novel take place in a single day, for instance. There is much to appreciate and enjoy; fine characters, an intricate plot, wise understanding of human nature, and just enough magic to make it a fantasy, but magic that always has a high cost. I do think it could have been told more succinctly. Kay’s next novel, “A Song for Arbonne” did something similar with less words and a better result. Still, this book is well worth reading.