Book Meme Day 27: The Most Surprising Plot Twist or Ending

To spoil, or not to spoil, that is the question:
Whether ‘tis nobler on the blog to make known
The most outrageous secrets of a book,
Or to write vaguely about an author’s ciphers,
And by saying naught preserve them?

Not to spoil, I think. Why should I rob you of the joy of discovery yourself?

My choice for the most surprising plot twists (yes, plural) occur in Chapters Four and Five of Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay. So early in the book, and yet they change everything. Matters which had been presented as absolute fact are twisted on their head and given new meaning. One after the other these twists come, each disguised by the unexpectedness of the previous one, until eventually the reader is prepared to believe just about anything that happens.

“It was too much. Devin’s brain simply gave up trying to understand. Too many pieces of information were coming at him from too many different directions, contradicting each other ferociously. He felt dizzy, overwhelmed. He was in a room where only a little while ago he had stood among a number of men. Now four of them were dead, with a more brutal violence than he had ever thought to come upon. At the same time, the one man he’d known to be dead—the man whose mourning rites he had sung that very morning—was the only man of Astibar left alive in this lodge.

If he was of Astibar!

…Devin simply stopped trying to put it all together. He set himself to listen and look—to absorb as much as he could into the memory that had never failed him yet—and to let understanding come after, when he had time to think.” (108-109)

The reader’s experience is much the same as young Devin’s, but mixed with more air-punching at the sheer awesomeness of the proceedings.

Book Meme Day 1: Best Book from Last Year

And we’re off! The first post of this month’s Book Meme requires me to choose the best book I read last year.

Oh boy. I shall have to find a definition for “best.” Great.

Well, considering how many of the other meme topics are about my “favorite” this or that, I shall define “best” in a more objective way. So, which of the books I read in 2010 was artistically the most accomplished? There are three competitors that stand out: Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay, Taliesin by Stephen Lawhead, and Airman by Eoin Colfer. It might be easier if I had the literary equivalent of a gladiatorial arena where I could just throw the books in and let them fight it out, but unfortunately, as it stands, I have to do some actual thinking.

For convenience in narrowing them down, let me try to use three main categories, corresponding to the way I think about stories: excellence of the writing craft, thematic depth, and moral resonance. In my notes, I have given each book a rating from 1 to 10 in these categories and then added them together and divided by 3, giving each book a number out of 10. This number will allow easy comparison of each book’s overall quality. (Whoa there, did I just willingly do math?)

And to that I will add my utterly subjective whim.

Drumroll, please…

The winner is Tigana, by Guy Gavriel Kay!

American 2008 reprint cover

I gave the book a fairly low mark in morals, because Kay’s treatment of sexuality really bugged me to an extreme. Taliesin almost beat it out because of that issue. But in the end, it is Tigana that stands as the towering achievement in fantasy literature. Kay’s writing style and plot depth is just about perfect. Tigana revels in its author’s ability to make the labyrinthine plot both relatable and passionate. Characters are not shortchanged, but all highly developed. Tension is common and action is satisfying. The magic is sprinkled in key places like a potent spice, all the better for its relative rarity.

Airman delighted me with its enthusiastic, old-fashioned adventure. Taliesin warmed me with its strong treatment of religious themes and the interweaving of Arthurian legend and Greek myth. But only Tigana caused my jaw to drop in amazement at, it seemed, every other chapter, and my mind to boggle at the sublime balance being so confidently trod on the pages before me.

Read my review of Tigana here.

Book Review: “Tigana” by Guy Gavriel Kay

American 2008 reprint cover

Title: Tigana
Author: Guy Gavriel Kay
Format: Novel, stand-alone
Pages: 673
Published: 1990
Reason for Beginning: Recommended to me by numerous sources as one of the truly great fantasy novels of recent times.
Reason for Finishing: It’s one of the most engrossing and well-written books I’ve read.
Spoiler-free Synopsis: In the Peninsula of the Palm, eight of nine kingdoms have been conquered by two sorcerer-tyrants from across the sea, Emperor Brandin of Ygrath and Alberico, a minor noble of Barbadior trying to make a name for himself, the land split politically between them as they eye each other warily. Young Devin, an excellent singer for a famed music troupe, finds himself drawn into an extremely covert conspiracy to overthrow the oppressors and unite the Palm in freedom. Things, however, get much more complicated than anyone could have predicted. Great sorrows are revealed and inflicted, amazing mysteries discovered, surprising friends are found, expectations are dashed and resurrected and twisted around, and everything builds to a conclusion that is really, outstandingly good. Read more