Kay is probably best known for his neo-Arthurian trilogy, "The Fionavar Tapestry," which drew mixed notices; this big new novel should establish him as an important independent voice. The setting is The Palm, a peninsula broken into small rival states each with its own Duke. Resisting an invasion, the province of Tigana defeats the armies of the sorcerer-king Brandin, killing his son. Enraged, Brandin sends a greater force to crush Tigana, then casts a spell to obliterate the province from human memory; only those born there before its fall can ever hear its name spoken. Fifteen years later, a few who escaped the subsequent bloodbath are sworn to kill Brandin, restoring the province to its rightful name and the exiled heir Alessan to its throne. Posing as traveling musicians, then as merchants, the small group of conspirators lays its plans and gathers its strength until the time is right. Meanwhile, unknown to anyone, Brandin's favorite concubine is a daughter of Tigana's, also sworn to kill him, but unable to act against him. These plot threads build to a convincing climax, but the novel's colorful setting nearly steals the show. Kay has spun a richly sensuous fantasy world, full of evocative history, religions, folklore, local customs, and magical rites. Knowledgeable readers will spot parallels with classical Greece and medieval Italy, but (unlike "Fionavar") there is very little that's derivative here. A bravura performance, nearly impossible to put down unfinished anywhere in the last 300 pages; odds are we'll see it on more than one award ballot next year.