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Literature / Tigana

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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 likable... 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.
  • Alien Sky/Weird Moon: Their world has two moons, Vidomni and Ilarion. The former is white, and the later blue.
  • 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.
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  • Arc Symbol: A trialla singing in the night
  • 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.
  • Big Damn Reunion: There are times when seems like there might be a moment at the end where Dianora and Baerd would meet again. It's bitterly subverted.
  • Black-and-Gray Morality/The Good, the Bad, and the Evil: Alessan is pretty grey Anti-Hero, Brandin is is somewhat darker grey Anti-Villain, and Alberico... is freaking The Caligula.
  • 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.
    • 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.
  • Canon Welding/Shout-Out: Finavir, or Finvair—as Brandin explicitly points out, spellings vary—is very close to to Fionavar. The context it's mentioned in makes it very easy to believe they're one and the same.
    Brandin: In Ygrath the tale is sometimes told and sometimes believed that this world of ours, both here in the southern lands and north beyond the deserts and the rain forests—whatever lies there—is but one of many worlds the gods sent into Time. The others are said to be far off, scattered among the stars, invisible to us.
  • 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.
  • 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 favourite son dying in a war that he himself 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.
  • Epigraph: Two. One from Dante, The Paradiso, and the other from George Seferis, "Stratis the Sailor Describes a Man".
  • 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 vs. 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. It’s several layers of foreshadowing.
  • Feuding Families: Nobles are just like that.
  • 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.
  • Foreshadowing: About halfway through the novel, Scelto claims that Camena the poet will be "altered" to eventually become Rhun's successor as Brandin's jester as a form of punishment (for having tried to assassinate Brandin with Isolla's help). This doesn't actually happen, but at the end, it's revealed that Brandin has, in fact, used the Court Fool creation process as a form of punishment before—on Rhun, whose real identity is that of Valentin, Prince of Tigana.
  • Genocide Backfire: It wasn't genocide so much as countrycide, but it still led to a small bitter group seeking sweet revenge.
  • First-Person Peripheral Narrator: It would be fair to claim this is more Alessan's story than Devin's. Or Baerd's. Or Dianora's. Or Brandin's. The point is, there are lots of strong candidates for "main character" of this story… and Devin isn't really one of them.
  • Good Bad Girl: Alienor is kind, helpful woman who kisses Alessan and flirts with both Catriana and Devin all within her first scene.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • I Gave My Word
    Rhamanus: My name is Rhamanus. I offer it to you in pride, for no dishonor has ever attached to that name. You will have no oath from me though. I swore one to the King I love before I led his Guard here. I told him I would stop you or die. It is an oath I will keep.
  • Court 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.)
  • Kick the Dog: Alessan binding Erlein
    Erlein: And what part of that little speech gives you rights over my life and death?
    Alessan: I have a duty. I must use what tools come to hand.
    Erlein: I am not a tool! I am a free and living soul with my own destiny!
  • 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.
  • 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 Letter Lunacy: Devin gets a very fragrant, rather forward love letter from Alais's sister.
  • Mercy Kill: He gives poison to his captured son Tomasso, to save him from being tortured and killed by Alberico.
    Sandre: This is the last thing I can do for you. If I were stronger I could do more, but at least they will not hurt you in the morning now. They will not hurt you any more, my son.
  • The Mole: Herado reports on his family, the Sandreni, to Alberico.
  • Moral Myopia: Brandin obsessively seeks 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 (or at the very least justified) in killing him.
  • Murder-Suicide:
    • Seconds after killing his nephew Herado, Taeri kills himself.
    • After killing Anghiar, Catriana throws herself out the window so she cannot be tortured. Defied when Erlein uses his magic to save her.
  • My Death Is Just the Beginning: See: Thanatos Gambit
  • No Ontological Inertia: A Discussed Trope, as it is an important plot point that drives part of the story. 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: Sandre and his son Tomasso together planned parallel cases of this for each of them, so they would both be underestimated. Sandre pretends to be a Grumpy Old Man and a drunk. 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.
    Tomasso: There are advantages to being seen as aimlessly degenerate.
  • 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.
  • The One That Got Away: Dianora to Baerd
    He lay silent in the grass thinking of her, and then, after a time, perhaps predictably, of Elena. And then, always and forever, certain as dawn or dusk or the turning of the seasons, of Dianora who was dead or lost to him somewhere in the world.
  • 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.
  • Pride: Pride is a big theme in the book, and the pride of the people of Tigana in particular. See Analysis for more. This Tiganese pride is established very early on, in the prologue, when Valentin talks about it:
    Valentin: Oh, our pride. Our terrible pride. Will they remember that most about us, do you think, after we are gone?
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Royalty Super Power: The Princes of Tigana can bind wizards to them. This comes to them via Divine Parentage.
    Alessan: You will have heard the legend. It happens to be true. The line of the Princes of Tigana, all those in direct descent, can bind a wizard to them unto death. […] It is our primal story: Tigana is the chosen province of Adaon of the Waves. The first of our Princes, Rahal, being born of the god by that Micaela whom we name as mortal mother of us all. And the line of the Princes has never been broken.
  • 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.
  • Sex for Solace: Dianora and Baerd's relationship was founded mostly out of their shared grief for the loss of their province, their city, their father, and Naddo.
    Baerd: What are we doing? What have we done?
    Dianora: Oh, Baerd. What has been done to us?
  • Sex Is Liberation: The relationship between conquered peoples and an "unstable sexuality" is one of the themes of the book; how people rebel when they can't rebel. See Analysis for more.
  • Suicide by Sea: Tonally, the second time Dianora does this is much more this trope than the first time.
  • 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.
  • Title Drop:
    • The momentous first time "Tigana" is said, when Baerd tells it to Devin.
      In the darkness they heard the trialla one more time, a long, descending note, and then Baerd spoke, and for the first time in his days Devin heard someone say:
    • Part One is titled "A Blade in the Soul"
      Alessan: I only spoke a prayer of my own. I always do. I said: Tigana, let my memory of you be like a blade in my soul.
  • 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. 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. While there's clear hints at who should get which (Sandre is an old man, Baerd is deciding which of the women in his life he should go to see, and Devin is a young man with a vast array of opportunities ahead of him), it's left up to the reader what actually happens.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Wizards Live Longer: Sorcerers are longer lived than ordinary people, though how long isn't specified. Brandin is in his sixties but only looks around half that, and indicates he fully expects to still be alive and hale after another sixty years have passed; we don't get confirmation on how old Alberico is.
  • Your Head Asplode: Isolla of Ygrath, following an attempted assassination on Brandin. It's awful.
  • You Remind Me of X: The riselka reminds Brandin of Dianora.
    Brandin: [as if it had just occurred to him] In fact, she reminded me of you.


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