Challenge: Tigana Read-Along, Part #3—Ember to Ember

There are no wrong turnings. Only paths we had not known we were meant to walk. (317)

It’s time for our bimonthly update on the Tigana Read-Along, hosted by the effervescent Memory of Stella Matutina. If you’re interested, we’ve already posted about “A Blade in the Soul” and “Dianora“, the first two sections of Tigana. Naturally, spoilers abound.

In “Ember to Ember”, the rebellion maneuvers themselves closer to the day of judgement, working to sow dissent through the winter and playing their lone trump card in the spring. Baerd also gets a significant chunk of the narrative through his involvement with the Night Walkers of Certando, who have been annually battling the mysterious Others in another dimension for the last twenty years.


As a theme, destiny comes to the forefront in “Ember to Ember”—after a fairly idyllic winter, Alessan finally binds a wizard to himself, which turns out to be a painful process. The wizard, Erlein, protests that he is “a free and living soul with [his] own destiny” (289); Alessan gravely informs him that he must do this horrible thing. While their relationship improves over the course of this section, it’s a situation with immense power imbalance; Alessan can always force Erlein to do something he does not want to do, even by accident. Baerd fulfills a small part of his destiny here as well; born with a caul that he’s maintained to this day, he is marked as one of the Night Walkers, and he does significant damage to the Others by naming their head as the tyranny of foreign powers in the Palm. His battle in that other world also allows him to fulfill a destiny he was denied, being too young; fighting in the last stand of Tigana.


There’s an element of fighting fire with fire to Alessan’s binding of Erlein—it makes Devin immensely uncomfortable—and, of course, it’s quite explicit when Baerd does battle with the concept itself. (I quite liked the detail that the Others are different for different people; Baerd sees Ygrathen soldiers, while the native Night Walkers see different kinds of beasts.) But I also found it interesting that the rebels’ trump card is Marius, “the self-crowned King of Quileia” (373), previously a religious matriarchy. While I hesitate to call Marius a tyrant—he’s portrayed as a gentle, if politically shrewd, man doing the best he can to maintain his new legacy—he’s still someone who has deposed the traditional rulers of a certain province, like Brandin and Alberico. (It is hinted that Quileia was once ruled by Kings, but what makes this more legitimate than the High Priestesses? Is it the ritual sacrifice of the consort, which the Palm still has in a much more symbolic ritual?) One of Marius’ many scars is from his wife, the last High Priestess of Quileia, in their last encounter—it’s ambiguous as to whether it was a sexual encounter or a violent one. Contrasting Marius against Brandin and Alberico forces us to wonder if tyranny is something easily identifiable or just a name for the control that the other side has. Intriguing…

Female Power

Of course, mentioning Quileia brings up the fact that the only matriarchy we’ve encountered so far is undergoing a political revamping—revolution is a bit much, as Marius came by his power legitimately. (Is that what defines tyranny in Tigana? Hmm…) I really want to know more about Quileia—religious matriarchy? Sign me up. (This probably says something about my attending a Presbyterian women’s college, but we’re talking Tigana today.) But we also encounter Alienor in “Ember to Ember”, and don’t think Kay didn’t know what he was doing when he named her after Eleanor of Aquitaine (In French, her name is written as Aliénor. The more you know!). She’s a woman powerful in her own right, although she’s inherited her power from her husband. The sexual power that Dianora displays is also found in Alienor, but Alienor’s sexual power is overwhelming—as Devin notes after their encounter, sex is a way for Alienor to forget herself (although she’s clearly dominant, which I found refreshing), not exercise her power. Unlike Dianora, obviously, Alienor has legitimate power, so she can afford to spend her sexual power however she wishes; it’s not the only way she can exercise her will.

There’s also an interesting counterpoint to this in the desexing of power with the Night Walkers of Certando; the battles appear to fought entirely in the mind, allowing Elena, a wheelwright’s daughter otherwise untrained in combat, to fight the Others effectively. As we learn, “it was the soul and the spirit that mattered”, as well as the “courage and desire” that ultimately matter (350).

That’s it for “Ember to Ember”—check back here on April 6th for my thoughts on “The Price of Blood”.

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

7 thoughts on “Challenge: Tigana Read-Along, Part #3—Ember to Ember

  1. I’m not doing the read-along, but have been very interested in your posts so far. I had quite a different conception of Marius, actually – not at all gentle, despite his injuries – but fully agree with your comment about his taking power in Quileia being similar to the Tyrants in the Palm. I believe Kay used a lot of Robert Graves’ ideas about the year-king from his book ‘The White Goddess’.

    I’ve always liked the way Kay portrays the power imbalance in Alessan’s and Erlein’s relationship; to me it indicates clearly that the rebels can’t fight the Tyrants by being ‘nice’ – they have to be just as ruthless and almost as nasty as their enemies.

  2. I was disappointed that the power Alienor wields is so far almost exclusively sexual. Eleanor of Acquitaine established the tradition of courtly love and chivalry. This woman slips around the corridors of her own castle almost as if her husband were still alive.

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

  4. Interesting take on Marius, it never occurred to me that he could be seen as a tyrant — I actually thought that he was supposed to be on the opposite side because it’s said that under the matriarchy Quileia was very inwardly focused and I thought repressed. When they talk about opening it up and the benefits of trade (even if it was put off for six months as a favor), that seemed like a good thing to me. I suppose at the least my perspective is a very Western perspective though.

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

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