Challenge: Tigana Read-Along, Part #1—A Blade in the Soul

“I only spoke a prayer of my own.” Alessan’s voice was careful and very clear. “I always do. I said: Tigana, let my memory of you be like a blade in my soul.” (133)

This is me playing catch-up. You see, I was under the impression that the Tigana read-along, hosted by Memory over at Stella Matutina, began on February 28th, not February 23th. Oops. In any case, the book was checked out at the library and I had to wait until March 3rd to get my hands on a library copy. (Which for some reason doesn’t have a copyright page… hmm…) But I’ve just missed one scheduled posting, so I’m going to throw this and Part #2 up today as I dive right in. Spoilers for the novel abound, my friends, so if you haven’t read Tigana or you’re not playing along at home, I’d skip it. That said, let’s dig in.

Last year, I read Guy Gavriel Kay’s The Summer Tree. While I enjoyed it, I never did pick up the rest of The Fionavar Tapestry. (Off-topic: is anybody else disappointed with the names of series this days? Where once was His Dark Materials, we have The Hunger Games and Leviathan, creatively named after the first book in the series. Lame.) Tigana was on my reading list well before Memory proposed the read-along, but I didn’t really know much about the book at all. It’s been an interesting experience (on top of trying to catch up for today!); there are so few things I go into not knowing anything. (For instance, I’m watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer at the moment, and there are plenty of reveals I’m spoiled for.) I rather like it.

I’m copying our illustrious hostess and focusing on issues and concepts that jumped out at me rather than reviews of each section—that’s what the review at the end is for, heh.

Family and Community

The culture of the Palm, the peninsula colonized and conquered by two competing outside forces, is heavily based on Renaissance Italy (as well as bits of Roman culture), down to the doublets. While I haven’t looked up terms—Kay is on my list of fantasy authors who just make up fantasy words for flavor and no real purpose—there’s Italian or Italian-inspired words sprinkled plentifully throughout. I’m quite taken with the commitment to family placed in this fantastical context.

Family—and community, to a lesser extent—is huge in Tigana. People’s full names include the name of their father as well as the region they’re from, and noble families are known as the descendants of their patriarch—Scalvaia’s family, for example, is known as the Scalvaiane. In “A Blade in the Soul”, the Duke of Sandre d’Astibar manipulates his own funeral vigil to give his chosen heirs a chance to discuss, in privacy, their plans to overthrow Alberico, the Barbadian tyrant who controls the eastern half of the Palm. As Tomasso, Sandre’s direct heir, considers each of the men, he doesn’t linger long on his nephew Herado, who is, after all, family—if you can’t trust him, who can you trust? (Of course, this ends with Herado betraying them all and killed by his uncle for betraying the family.)

The struggle to restore Tigana’s rightful place in history expands this commitment to family, although Devin, more or less our protagonist, links his commitment to the cause to the memory of his mother. (More on memory in a second.) The rebels fighting to restore Tigana are all linked by it, even though the younger members were born, but not raised, there. I’m looking forward to seeing Tigana’s community loyalty contrasted against the familial loyalty by the nobility.


Memory is subtly important in Tigana. The creation myth of the Palm involves the creator goddess, Eanna, committing the names of everything to memory. More importantly, it’s an enormous part of Devin’s identity. He’s gifted with near-perfect recall. Early in the novel, we learn that Devin’s first lover, Marra, died some time ago, but his memory allows him to process and deal with her death beyond his nineteen years. Forgetting is something worth grieving to Devin, which is partly why he’s inspired to join the cause—Tigana is something he never knew he lost, as well as the mother he never knew and longed for. I haven’t seen this pop up with other characters yet, but I’m looking forward to seeing other characters deal with memory.

Queer Characters in Tigana

Tomasso bar Sandre is initially presented as a stereotypical gay man—flamboyant, lisping, and predatory. We soon learn that, while Tomasso is gay, most of this is a mask that allows him more freedom than he might have if his motives were clear. I did find Tomasso to be a sympathetic and interesting character—alas, he only appears in “A Blade in the Soul”—but I still don’t know what to think about what Kay is saying here about effeminacy.

I’m writing a paper about the denigration of the feminine in young adult literature at the moment, so negative representations of femininity and effeminacy are on my mind. There’s an emphasis on Tomasso’s real voice versus his lisping, fluting voice—bluntly, his “gay” voice—and one is presented as better than the other. It’s a complex representation, I have to say—we get to know who Tomasso is under his machinations, so we do know that he considers his more stereotypical behavior a mask. But I’m still a little uncomfortable with the negative portrayal of effeminacy here. I’m also a little uncomfortable with the bizarre, off-hand detail that Tomasso, in his mask, commissions penis canes, but that’s neither here nor there. (…seriously. Penis canes.)

Otherwise, male homosexuality is treated decently for 1990. The firmly straight Devin has learned how to gently turn down amorous men (although he has a few moments of mild gay panic—not every gay man is going to jump you, Devin, chill out), and I’m detecting some romantic tension between Alessan and Baerd, the two older men who head the small rebellion. (Wishful thinking? Perhaps. But I think I’m on that ship, people.) Female homosexuality is presented much more positively—two girls in Devin’s troupe are involved, and it’s implied that Marra, Devin’s first lover, was at least a little bicurious, helping him seduce women.

With Tomasso out of the picture, I think things will improve a little, but I’m still a little wary.

Now, onto “Dianora”!

  • Kay, Guy Gavriel. Tigana. New York: Penguin Books, 1990. Print.

3 thoughts on “Challenge: Tigana Read-Along, Part #1—A Blade in the Soul

  1. Pingback: Challenge: Tigana Read-Along, Part #3—Ember to Ember « The Literary Omnivore

  2. Pingback: Challenge: Tigana Read-Along #4—The Price of Blood « The Literary Omnivore

  3. Pingback: Challenge: Tigana Read-Along Part #5—The Memory of a Flame « The Literary Omnivore

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