Literature / Tigana

Tigana is a 1990 fantasy novel by Guy Gavriel Kay. It takes place in The Peninsula Of The Palm, a Fantasy Counterpart Culture for medieval Italy. Two foreign conquerors occupy the Peninsula: Brandin, king of Ygrath, and Alberico of Barbadior. They have carved up the land between them, and hold it in an uneasy balance of power. The main focus of the story is on a group of rebels who seek to liberate the area, but must defeat both tyrants at the same time, lest one overrun the Peninsula. We also see the viewpoint of Brandin, as well as Dianora, a concubine bent on assassinating him.

During Brandin's conquest, his son was killed in the province of Tigana. In retaliation, he razed the area flat, and put a curse on it that no one outside Tigana would know of its name or history. He turns out to be a competent ruler, cultured, if arrogant, and likeable... but is that enough to erase his prior sins?


This work contains the following examples:

  • 0% Approval Rating: Nobody seems to approve of Alberico (whereas Brandin is actually quite a good ruler) but they're afraid to say so, with good reason.
  • Affably Evil/Anti-Villain: Brandin is cultured, benevolent, an excellent ruler, and an all-around great guy. However, he'll never be dissuaded from seeking revenge against those who have wronged him, no matter who (or what) it harms (or who actually wronged whom in the first place), and so for the good of the entire Peninsula, he's got to go.
  • Air Strip One: See Please Select New City Name below; it's a city-state.
  • And This Is For...: "In the name of my sons, I curse you forever."
  • Anti-Hero: Alessan. Few would argue his cause isn't noble, but he's willing to do some pretty dark things along the way, forcibly binding wizards into his service and manipulating the two Tyrants into outright war with one another being chief among them.
  • Author Appeal: Alienor and Devin's bondage scene comes out of nowhere and is so lovingly described that somebody just had to be throwing it in there for his own enjoyment.
  • Becoming the Mask: Dianora worries that she's starting to fall for the man she swore to assassinate, Brandin. She's right, and ends up saving his claim to the Peninsula because of it.
  • Best Served Cold: Dianora. Initially.
  • Big Bad Ensemble: Brandin and Alberico, who are the main antagonists of the novel but also oppose each other. The rebels end up exploiting this by manipulating them into fighting each other, knowing that just overthrowing one will leave the other sole ruler of the Palm.
  • Blood Magic: A limited case. Magicians of the Hand can't fully use their power until they cut off two of their fingers, symbolically linking themselves to the peninsula.
  • Brother-Sister Incest: Dianora and Baerd
  • Bury Your Gays: Tomasso doesn't last very long.
    • Also, Isolla of Ygrath, the lover of Brandin's wife; the latter sent her to assassinate him.
  • The Caligula: Alberico is constantly on the edge of this trope; he starts going downhill pretty much from the moment he very nearly gets assassinated.
  • Camp Gay: Tomasso. Except not really, he's actually purposefully playing up the stereotype in order to make people underestimate him.
  • Cassandra Truth: Nobody believes Alberico when he claims that the heads of three rival families with rich estates, led by the most Camp Gay guy that ever camped, all got together in a conspiracy to kill him. Especially since everyone involved is conveniently dead (when standard practice is to wring out a confession and then horribly execute) and it gives him the perfect pretext to take their stuff.
  • Cool Old Guy: Sandre.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Whilst the Barbadian sky-wheels are pretty nasty, it's Isolla's death that really stands out. Brandin's magic rips her apart from the inside, giving us our first glimpse of him not as a charming, benign Anti-Villain, but as the man who obliterated a country all the way down to its name.
  • Cynicism Catalyst: Residual grief over the death of his son is what drives Brandin to do what he does.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Approximately fourth fifths of the cast.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: His habit of doing this is what makes Brandin an Anti-Villain rather than a straight-up hero. To use the most notorious example (though others exist), his reaction to his son dying in a war he started is to annihilate the defenders' country so hard that it poisons the entire Peninsula.
  • The Dog Bites Back: How Brandin dies, assassinated by his own court fool - aka, Prince Valentin of Tigana.
  • Don't Fear the Reaper: The goddess Morian, associated with transitions and death, is thought of as a figure of peace and guidance - but not before one's time has come.
  • Eunuchs Are Evil: Averted with Scelto. Vaguely hinted at with Vencel, but it never amounts to anything.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Pretty much the incentive for the entire plot. Brandin really loved his son Stevan. So much so that he's willing to go to utterly extreme lengths to avenge him.
  • Eviler Than Thou: Brandin is a ruthless conqueror, but he's got redeeming qualities. Alberico... doesn't.
  • Evil Overlord: Two of them, opposed to each other as well as the people they conquered note .
  • Evil Sorcerer: Alberico. Brandin is definitely a ruthless sorcerer, but it's up for debate how evil he actually is.
  • Evil Versus Evil: The two sorcerer-kings occupying the Peninsula absolutely loathe each other.
  • Faking the Dead: Sandre, at the very start; Catriana later fakes a bridge-dive for propaganda purposes.
  • Feuding Families: Nobles are just like that.
  • Fiery Redhead: Catriana
  • Fingore: To become a wizard, with power bound to the Peninsula, it is necessary to cut off two of the fingers on your left hand.
  • Genocide Backfire: It wasn't genocide so much as countrycide, but it still led to a small bitter group seeking sweet revenge.
  • Glamour Failure
  • Good People Have Good Sex: More a case of Free People Have Good Sex: while Tigana is in the grip of two foreign tyrants, the only forms of sex depicted are prostitution, rape, incest, BDSM or sex under false pretenses. Not until the Tiganans prepare to rise up against their dictators is "healthy" sex depicted.
  • Gray Eyes: Much is made of the grey eyes of Alessan, Brandin, and Rhun the fool, all of which are exactly the same colour. A character explicitly notes that Alessan's eyes look just like Brandin's, which seems to be foreshadowing some reveal or another. It's a red herring. If Alessan's eyes look just like Brandin's, and Brandin's eyes look just like his Fool's, then Alessan has the same eyes as Rhun - his father.
  • Grey and Black Morality: Albeit in a three-way conflict rather than a two way. Alessan is pretty grey, Brandin is somewhat darker grey, and Alberico is a solid black.
  • Handicapped Badass: Marius, who killed half a dozen would-be assassins while hamstrung.
    • Scalvaia gets an honorary mention for almost killing Alberico with a walking stick, of all things.
  • Heroes Want Redheads: Catriana.
  • Historical Fantasy: The Palm is pretty recognizably Fantasy Italy, though it's not as firmly a historical counterpart as some of Kay's other works.
  • Important Haircut: Catriana
  • The Jester: the King's Fool in Brandin's court is magically linked to him, acting out his master's subconscious urges.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Erlein never passes up an opportunity to needle Alessan and company, but—as Alessan himself points out—he is being held captive, and his people are in great danger from what Alessan plans to do. (And Erlein gets better, anyways.)
  • Kiss of Distraction: Exaggerated. Catriana and Devin are stuck in a tight secret passageway, and she has sex with him in an (unsuccessful) attempt to stop him from hearing a conversation in the next room.
  • La Résistance
  • Light Feminine Dark Feminine: The two goddesses of the Triad, Eanna and her daughter, Morian. Eanna is the creator of the stars and the heavens; she names and loves all things in creation. Morian - although no more evil than Eanna is - is associated with darker, more dread forces, including transitions, crossroads, death, and the afterlife.
  • A Lighter Shade of Black: Brandin. Sure, he's a decent guy in person... too bad this decent guy is a foreign invader, and would be plainly Affably Evil (or even Faux Affably Evil), had he been the sole invader of Peninsula. Next to Alberico, though, anyone comes out looking good.
  • Love Hurts: Oh boy.
  • Love Letter Lunacy: Devin gets a very fragrant, rather forward love letter from Alais's sister.
  • Moral Myopia: Brandin obsessively proves vengeance for his son's death without stopping to consider that, since said son was the leader of an invading army, the Tiganese may have been right to kill him.
  • My Death Is Just the Beginning: See: Thanatos Gambit
  • No Ontological Inertia: The curse Brandin laid upon Tigana only exists so long as Brandin himself lives. Upon his death the curse will end and people will be able to speak of Tigana once more. That is why he is staying in the Palm and prolonging his life through unnatural means... for his vengeance to be complete he needs to outlive everyone who was born in Tigana before it fell.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: More like obfuscating FABULOSITY; Tomasso is known to be gay and deliberately plays himself up as a stereotypical hedonistic fop to disguise the fact that he's actually highly intelligent and a member of La Résistance.
  • Offing the Offspring: A particularly upsetting variant.
  • Off-into-the-Distance Ending: Subverted. At the end, the protagonists ride away around a bend in the road — and then there is one more sentence about what happened to them around the next bend to make the point that just because the story ends here doesn't mean the characters have nothing left to do with their lives.
  • Offstage Villainy: All of Brandin's evil deeds occurred years before the book even starts. We'd never know he was supposed to be evil if those actions didn't have repercussions in the present.
  • Parental Favoritism: Brandin loved his younger son Stevan more than his eldest and heir Girald, to an absurd degree. As Isolla of Ygrath puts it...
    Isolla: You exalted a dead child above a living one, and revenge above your wife. And more highly than your own land. Have you spared a thought, a fraction of a thought, for any of them while you pursued your unnatural vengeance for Stevan?
  • Please Select New City Name: Brandin renaming Tigana to Lower Corte is a major driving force in the main plot. He magically erases the name Tigana from the consciousness of anyone who didn't live there when it was Tigana, so that it seems the name, and the memory of the city-state, is destined to die with that generation.
  • Redemption Equals Death
  • Revenge Before Reason: Brandin. Even his wife thinks he's taken it too far. His quest for revenge for his son Stevan is unending - even though Brandin started the war in which he died, and Stevan, furthermore, was a soldier - not a helpless innocent killed in the crossfire. Up to the very last, when he exhausts his magic entirely, he's most upset about the fact that his revenge will be incomplete.
  • Rightful King Returns
  • Royal Harem: Brandin has one, called a saishan. One of the concubines, Dianora, is actually planning to kill Brandin in revenge for what he did to Tigana, but changes her mind.
  • Stupidity-Inducing Attack: The Court Fool creation process, providing a Ygrathi king's least favourite enemies with a particularly nasty Fate Worse Than Death. As Brandin found out, though, it only works so long as you've got enough magic to sustain it, and once you're out of magic, your revenge is standing close at hand, whole in mind, and very angry.
  • Thanatos Gambit: Sandre's death and subsequent funeral at first appears to be this, with the twist that Sandre is actually Faking the Dead. Later Catriana invokes this trope when she assassinates Anghiar and jumps to what she assumes to be her death. It doesn't take.
  • The Good, the Bad, and the Evil: Alessan and the Tigana rebels are the Good, Brandin and the Ygrath are the Bad, and Alberico and the Barbadians are the Evil.
  • The Greatest Story Never Told: No one will ever know who Dianora really was and her original mission - not even her only surviving family. No one will ever know the true identity of Brandin's Fool. Only one man, Scelto, realizes these truths, and he decides that revealing the truth would help no one, and he keeps them secret for the sake of peace.
  • Twist Ending: Of the Snap Ending variety on the very last paragraph. Possibly, anyway, since we never discover which of the three got which fate.
    • To elaborate: many chapters before, Dianora sees a riselka (a fairy-like creature, something like a banshee). She repeats to herself the old prophecy about the riselka, including the lines "one woman sees a riselka / her path comes clear to her" and "three men see a riselka / one is blessed, one forks [comes to a crossroads in his life], one shall die". At the very end of the book, Sandre, Baerd and Devin are walking to meet Marius when they spot a riselka sitting by the side of the path. It's left up to the reader who gets what part of the prophecy.
  • Unperson: Performed on the entire country of Tigana, kicking off the novel's plot. Word of God says that the author was inspired to write the story by the instances of this during the Soviet purges.
  • Wacky Wayside Tribe: Possibly the Night Walkers. On the one hand, they pop up with no foreshadowing whatsoever, and receive little mention afterwards. On the other, they provide significant Character Development for one member of the heroes' party, as well as showing that there are rather more serious, immediate reasons to restore Tigana than just addressing past grievances.
  • Weird Moon: Two of them, one white, one blue.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Kay explores this motif, having his heroes take several morally dubious choices in their quest. Were they justified by necessity? It's up to the reader.
  • Your Head Asplode: Isolla of Ygrath, following an attempted assassination on Brandin. It's awful.


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