This was a long book, not that there's anything wrong with length in a book of course, but when you notice it that can be a problem. And I noticed it even as I continued to read. At first I enjoyed the abundance of detail in the world Kay created and the interesting way he has of packing surprises into it at nearly every turn. Things and people are rarely what they seem and events take unexpected turns. The characters are interesting, too, though perhaps a little underdeveloped in places. I had a hard time keeping Devin and Alessan straight for instance, constantly imagining the other when the one was having a lengthy reverie. Which raises another issue that troubled: The story's heavy detail is partly driven by the author's penchant for constantly yanking us away from contemporaneous events by digressions from different characters' points of view, digressions which often go on for so long that you can lose sight of where you were in the current time of the narrative. This surely contributed to the sense of too much length.
The story itself is nicely constructed, though, if a little busy as we follow our growing group of adventurers back and forth around the Peninsula of the Palm -- Kay's rendering of the Italian Boot, by his own admission, having chosen the shape of a hand instead of a leg and turned it up, so that the world in which it exists overall seems to have its polarities reversed, the south here being the place of increasing cold, the north greater warmth -- a faux Italy, complete with Italian sounding names, set in a southern hemisphere world! It's a dreamlike world, too, with elements of magic taking on a dreamy quality (in some cases involving dream worlds) and the characters' odyssey across the Palm seeming, at times, to lack a point just as our dreams may find us in disjointed places, dashing about but without a sense of what we're actually trying to do.
One of the main characters, Alessan, has a plan though, if only imperfectly conceived since so much depends on events over which he can have no control, as he and his companions race hither and yon to accomplish it. Their goal? Restore the name and common memory of a lost province, the recollection of which has been expunged from the minds of the peninsula's inhabitants by one of two sorcerers who has invaded and taken control of the Peninsula of the Palm. A great wrong has been done to the people of that province and it is this which drives the secret cabal of companions to try to undo the sorcerers' hold on their land and the work of magic that has deprived its people of a part of their heritage. But the people of the Palm are weak in the ways of magic while the sorcerers seem terribly powerful -- and twenty crushing years have gone by, the chance of restoring the lost memory of a wronged land slipping away as the last of its inhabitants, the only ones who still remember, are dying off.
Meanwhile the two sorcerers pursue their brutal ways, the one with gruesome banality, the other with the inspiration of great passion and even greater pain as the fellowship Alessan has gathered around him struggles against oppression and the threat of discovery to realize their common dream: removing both sorcerers from the land and restoring the name of the lost Tigana in the memories and language of the people. The tale has many twists and turns which are memorable and compelling but it has a tiresome aspect as well with the endless shifts of viewpoints and time periods. Yet, I'm not sure it could have been told in another way.
In the end, the story resolves itself in a great battle that has been long in coming, and in the sorrows of its characters -- some of whom we're surprised we've come to care about and others we're surprised we have not. Tigana is an intriguing and thoughtful tale, with more depth than the typical fantasy novel, but it's repetitive in certain unfortunate ways, perhaps reflecting an author who was too much in love with the world he has made.