News Ticker

[GUEST POST] Helen Lowe on the Fantasy Heroines That Rock Her World: Dianora di Certando from Guy Gavriel Kay’s TIGANA

HelenL2-1 (2)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.

The Fantasy Heroines That Rock My World

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.

6 Comments on [GUEST POST] Helen Lowe on the Fantasy Heroines That Rock Her World: Dianora di Certando from Guy Gavriel Kay’s TIGANA

  1. “Tigana” is possibly my most favourite book of all time. Ever. And a great part of that is Dianora who is such a nuanced and layered character, betrayed by own humanity, and rising above it to become an archetypal legend. Glorious character, and a nonpareil book. Thanks for htis.

  2. “Tigana” is definitely right up there for me, too, Alma. I am glad you enjoyed the post.

  3. Beth Butler // May 21, 2015 at 8:05 pm //

    Tigana is my favorite fiction book of all times. And Dianora is not only one of my favorite characters, but I think she unified and made the book for so many readers such as myself.

    • Hi Beth, “Tigana” has always been one of my “top reads” as well, although in terms of Guy Gavriel Kay’s books I’ve always really liked “A Song For Arbonne” as well.

  4. Mark Mitzer // May 22, 2015 at 2:40 am //

    I’m pleased to see someone mention Tigana. It’s one of the very rare novels in fantasy that can’t be defined by its genre; it is literature.

    Unfortunately, I can’t agree with your assessment of Dianora. She is indeed a fascinating character, but I take her contribution to the world as one that is basically selfish. That it works out for everyone is quite literally Deus ex machina; the Triad has provided her path (thank you riselka!), and they have their own interests in mind.

    Dianora loves. She loves the passion and wit and power that is Brandon. But that love is not impossible; it is selfish. She accepts the attributes of Brandon that work for her, but the irony of the claim that it shows him as a person worthy of love is that it omits the single most important aspect of that love: she cannot accept him as a whole person. To do so would mean that she would accept that she is a traitor to her land instead of merely a victim.

    She knows it is a betrayal of her people, and the quote that you bring up from Alessan towards the end of the book omits the most important heroic aspect to the character: that they respect her solely because of her courage doing the ring dive.

    Her story complements the (very important) nuances of Brandon by providing a POV without getting into his head. But she does not “manag(e) to remain true to herself, charting her course through the story with strength and dignity, pathos and grace.” She betrays herself over and over, and that tragedy is far more interesting than giving her a ‘truth’ that doesn’t exist.

  5. Hi Mark, The one thing I’ve learned “for sure” as both a reader and writer is that it’s possible for two people to read the same text very differently.:)

    I had the great pleasure of rereading “Tigana” in preparation for this post and I can only say that from my reading, part of what made Dianora so compelling a character was that she did see herself as a traitor to Tigana and her own people.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: