Guy Gavriel Kay

Tigana
A Song for Arbonne

Penguin 1990, HarperCollins 1992
A book review by Danny Yee © 1994 http://dannyreviews.com/
Guy Gavriel Kay made an impressive debut with his first novel, the Fionvar Tapestry trilogy. Tigana and A Song for Arbonne, his second and third novels, are worthy successors. It is particularly good to see that he took his time writing them; it is all too easy for successful fantasy novelists to sell trash, and many of them fall victim to the Vulg the Visigoth syndrome [Ursula Le Guin, The Language of the Night]. An increasing use of historical rather than fantastic elements is also notable, and here Kay has clearly done his research properly. (Although so much modern fantasy depends on political, historical and military plotting for interest, these are rarely treated with any sophistication, and the results are sometimes nauseating to the knowledgeable reader.)

The world of Tigana is very clearly based on renaissance Italy, both in language and culture and in geopolitics — in this case a land of city states dominated by two foreign sorcerers. One strand of the story follows a group of outcasts from the magically annihilated state of Tigana, who move around fomenting unrest against the tyrants. This is pretty straightforward fantasy material, but it is much better done than usual and contains a number of original ideas. The other strand centres on one of the two sorcerers, King Brandin of Ygrath, and his concubine Dianora. This is both a love story and a tragedy, and was so compelling that I was continually tempted to skip the other strand in order to follow it. There is hardly a trace of the contrived plotting and characterisation that marred The Fionvar Tapestry, and the two strands of the novel are cleverly woven together. Tigana is a very impressive work, and it would probably make a list of my favourite ten fantasy novels.

A Song for Arbonne, while enjoyable, was rather disappointing after Tigana. The events and plot are predictable, the characters are just too nice and, in the end, nothing much really happens. The gist of the plot is that Arbonne (based on medieval Provence) is threatened by invasion from Gorhaut (controlled by the bad guys) and the hero (an exile from Gorhaut) joins the good guys and saves the day. There is no hint of tragedy and hardly any real conflict. This is not grounds for abandoning the author, however, and I look forward to Kay's next novel.

March 1994

External links:
Tigana
- buy from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk
A Song for Arbonne
- buy from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk
Related reviews:
- books by Guy Gavriel Kay
- more fantasy
%T Tigana
%A Kay, Guy Gavriel
%I Penguin
%D 1990
%O paperback
%G ISBN 0140130101
%P 688pp

%T A Song for Arbonne
%A Kay, Guy Gavriel
%I HarperCollins
%D 1992
%O paperback
%G ISBN 0586216774
%P 608pp