Challenge: Tigana Read-Along Part #5—The Memory of a Flame

She was no longer herself, she thought. No longer Dianora, or not only Dianora. She was merging further into legend with every step she took. (547)

It’s time for my last bimonthly update for the Tigana Read-Along, hosted by the wonderful Memory of Stella Matutina. If you’re interested, we’ve already posted about “A Blade in the Soul“, “Dianora“, “Ember to Ember“, and “The Price of Blood“. There’s one more update scheduled, but I’ll be putting up my review of the book then. Naturally, spoilers abound.

“The Memory of a Flame” is the climax of Tigana; Brandin and Alberico assemble their troops in Senzio, and it only requires a spark to set off this powder-keg and make the cautious Alberico attack the much stronger Brandin. And the rebellion is more than happy to provide this, as they gather together in Senzio to change the tide of battle. What, did you think this had an unhappy ending?

Destiny Deferred

All the talk of duty and destiny is ultimately destroyed in “The Memory of a Flame”. This section opens with Dianora planning to commit suicide during the first Ring Dive, a Chiarian tradition, in two hundred and fifty years in order to sabotage Brandin’s budding new kingdom and the war. It’s all as the riselka foretold—but Dianora doesn’t do it. At the last moment, prepared to die, she turns back and surfaces. Alessan, after Erlein saves Catriana from near-death for seemingly no reason, releases the wizard from his forced bondage. He doesn’t need the divine trump card of the Princes of Tigana to win the war. Even the stunning twist that Rhun, Brandin’s Fool, is actually Valentin, Alessan’s father, is an example of this. Instead of a heartwarming reunion (which is also denied to Dianora and Baerd), Valentin is killed and Scelto lies to Alessan about his identity. With the downfall of the tyrants go destiny and, indeed, convention; the Tiganese and, indeed, the rest of the Palm will have to fend for themselves in the eternal march of time.

Yes, Dianora ultimately drowns, but on her own terms after her failure (more on that in just a second); it’s her decision, not destiny’s or a role she is being forced to play. This deferral of destiny makes the ultimate appearance of a riselka in the epilogue less threatening, but discussion of the epilogue is for the review. Boo.

The Problem of Dianora

I’ll be honest; I felt a little cheated by Dianora’s ending. We’ve spent so much time with her that the (admittedly awesome) twist of Valentin killing Brandin feels like it invalidates Dianora. After she came up during the Ring Dive—making her the first of two fake-out female deaths in this section—I seriously thought that she was going to kill Brandin as soon as Alberico was sorted out. The scenes with her prior to the Ring Dive are so soul-searching and perfectly her; she loves Brandin and she has to kill him for the cause, but the contradiction is tearing her apart. Brandin’s love for her is presented ambiguously. While he explicitly tells her he loves her, the knowledge that he won’t actually die of grief if she dies during the Ring Dive is one of her motives for turning back.

Having Valentin be both present and the murderer of Brandin gives me some very uncomfortable hindsight—Dianora is, then, ultimately just a way to get a view into Brandin’s court. Perhaps it would be different if Dianora had stayed and reunited with her brother, finding a different dream and motive for her life, but she doesn’t. After she fails, she kills herself, which is quite in character for Dianora. But there’s a lull between her return from the Ring Dive and her suicide that rubs me the wrong way; if Dianora isn’t still actively seeking a way to murder her beloved, why are we spending time with her? Perhaps I’ll feel differently after digesting the novel, but at the moment, I feel a little ripped off.

Racebending

Before we wrap up this Read-Along, I want to address something I haven’t had the chance to—blackface. You see, Sandre, Duke of Astibar, is supposed to be dead. In order to disguise him, the rebels paint him black so he can disguise himself as Tomaz, a mercenary from Khardun, their dark-skinned neighbors to the north. No matter how much Kay harped on how Sandre’s eyes fit the disguise, all I saw was a old male version of this sort of blackface. I have a very cinematic imagination, especially when it comes to speculative fiction, and imagining Sandre in this made me very uncomfortable.

Yes, it’s historically accurate for a culture based on Renaissance Italy, but I think it’s the fact that the narrative treats it as such a flawless disguise and nothing else that gets to me. I think it would have been much more interested if Sandre was mixed (Khardhun and the Palm) and able to pass, allowing Kay to get at the theme of identity even more. But as it stands, I’m disappointed in this aspect of Tigana.

Well, that’s it for “The Memory of a Flame”—check back here on April 27th for my review of Tigana as a whole!

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

4 thoughts on “Challenge: Tigana Read-Along Part #5—The Memory of a Flame

  1. You know, I think you’ve got at why Dianora’s eventual suicide feels so wrong to me. If she’s given up on the idea of killing Brandin, then that does invalidate all of what she’s set out to do since leaving home – if she hasn’t, why does Valentin get to wield the killing blow? Perhaps Kay was uncomfortable with the idea of portraying Dianora as able to kill Brandin, after she’d achieved validation by his declaration of love [/sarcasm]. That Valentin as the Fool was a great twist, but why would he have been at the battle, anyway?

      • Dianora was one of my favorite characters and, in my opinion, was much more than a window into Brandon’s court. The narration of her internal struggles she faced was a gut-wrenching emotional roller coaster. I believe at the end she’s given up on the idea of destroying Brandon and can’t face herself knowing that she’s given up on her life mission. So she goes off into the sea…thus fulfilling the visions of the riselka.

        As for the black face, you’re reading to much into it. How else could they disguise such a well known man? Geez, don’t be so sensitive!

      • I think so too, but the fact that her character arc gets invalidated at the end is what bugs me. If she cannot face killing Brandon herself and the contradiction ultimately drives her to suicide, why not commit suicide during the Ring Dive? This is in terms of big picture outline, rather than specifics, since Kay tries to make the motivation follow. I just found spending so much time with Dianora, rooting for her so badly, and then having her give up distractedly—instead of, perhaps, failing at the last moment in an assassination attempt and killing herself afterwards—so disheartening.

        Disfigurement, drag, disease… the list goes on of options without the weight of blackface for Kay’s audience. Again, for a culture based on Renaissance Italy, blackface is just as accurate as sexism. It’s the fact that, for a novel so focused on identity, it’s not treated as anything else but a flawless disguise; I don’t think there’s even a scene where someone even thinks about how Sandre might seem next to an actual Khardun, or even a scene where that’s a threat. I feel that if you’re going to use something like that, make it worth it, instead of uncomfortable.

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