Writers can often be judged by the way they deploy violence in the service of their stories; the worst melodrama is often poorly written in this specific regard. Kay has no worries in this department: he can wrench blood from the stoniest-hearted characters, and he's never afraid to end on a more complex note than happily ever after (for either protagonist or antagonist).
Tigana takes place on a peninsula known as the Palm. The peninsula has been overrun by two conquering armies, the east by the Barbadian sorcerer Alberico and the west by the Ygrathen king and sorcerer Brandin. Each invader has conquered four provinces, with the ninth province of the Palm remaining neutral. The Prologue begins with events on the western side of the Palm, as Brandin is on the verge of vanquishing Tigana, the last province to show resistance. The Prince of Tigana succeeded in killing Brandin's son and heir in a previous battle, and in revenge Brandin destroys most of the province and casts a dreadful curse on its people, a curse which makes the book resonate with many countries in the real world.