Helen Lowe, is a novelist, poet, interviewer and blogger whose first novel, Thornspell (Knopf), was published to critical praise in 2008. Her second, The Heir of Night (The Wall Of Night Series, Book One) won the Gemmell Morningstar Award 2012. The sequel, The Gathering Of The Lost, was shortlisted for the Gemmell Legend Award in 2013 and Daughter Of Blood, (The Wall Of Night Series, Book Three) is forthcoming in January 2016. Helen posts regularly on her “…on Anything, Really” blog and is also on Twitter: @helenl0we.
by Helen Lowe
In “Fantasy Heroines That Rock My World” I am shining a spotlight on favorite Fantasy heroines, not only revealing who they are but why I believe they kick butt and take names as characters. One of my absolute favorites in a long line of Fantasy heroines is Dianora di Certando from Guy Gavriel Kay’s Tigana.
The most fascinating aspect of my last statement is that Dianora never actually kicks butt in the story, nor does she wield a sword or throw magic about. Yet I believe she is possibly the most compelling heroine I have yet encountered in Fantasy literature – and was pleased, on rereading Tigana, to find my opinion remained unchanged.
Part of what makes Dianora so compelling is that she is a tragic heroine, caught between loyalty to her country and her love for their greatest enemy. Having allowed herself to be taken captive to try and undo a spell that is destroying Tigana, she falls in love with her captor. The spell she seeks to undo, however, is tied to her lover – and captor’s – life.
Towards the end of the book, a walk-on character describes Dianora as a traitor and a whore. Alessan, one of the book’s main protagonists, is surprised by the strength of his reaction against this denunciation:
“Alessan … couldn’t stop thinking about the woman [Dianora], what she had done, how she had looked rising like some supernatural creature from the sea…He honestly couldn’t have said why he’d felled that man. Everything he’d said about the woman from Certando was true. All of it was true, yet none of it was the real truth. Everything about today was brutally confusing.”
“All of it was true, yet none of it was the real truth.” This phrase is key to the power of Dianora’s character and Kay’s achievement in writing her. Nothing about Dianora’s situation is straightforward, but as readers we see what Alessan has comprehended at an emotional level: Dianora’s courage, her integrity, and her intelligence, as well as her – impossible – love.
In fact, when re-reading Tigana, I could not shake the conviction that it is Dianora that really “makes” the story. It is her path that will not allow us, as readers, to neatly file away Tigana as a “them and us”, “goodies versus baddies” tale. Through Dianora’s point of view, we realize that Brandin of Ygrath, despite the spell he has wrought on Tigana, is also a man capable of great love and worthy of being loved in return.
One of the most interesting aspects of Dianora’s character is that she would agree (if she could have overheard the conversation) that everything the man in the tavern has said to Alessan is true: she has “betrayed her home and all her dead and her own vengeance” for love. She knows, too, that the fact it is not all of the truth will not save her – but she would also:
“…accept that ending and know it was deserved.”
Effectively, Dianora sees herself as having failed completely. Yet as the story unfolds, it becomes clear that her actions and decisions are critical to saving Tigana:
“The flow and shape of events had seemed to be on their side, in the clearest possible way. Then the Certandan woman had fished a ring from the water for Brandin.
She haunted his dreams, that never-seen woman. Three times now she’d surfaced like a nightmare in his life … he might have had the peninsula of the Palm without effort this spring … if that same Dianora di Certando had not saved the Ygrathen’s life two months ago… It would all have been so easy, so elegant.
But it was not so because of the woman. The woman from one of his own [conquered] provinces. The irony was…acid in his soul. Certando was his and Dianora di Certando was … the only reason there was an army from the west … waiting for [him] to make the slightest move.”
The “real truth” – and the heart of the tragedy – is that Dianora, caught in her impossible love, has ended doing as much to save the world as Alessan and his comrades have brought about through resistance and war. She has done so, despite the terrible conflict that besets her, by managing to remain true to herself, charting her course through the story with strength and dignity, pathos and grace.
That is why the presence of Dianora di Certando in Fantasy literature will always rock my world.