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?
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.
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.