A Matryoshka Novel

The Book of the Beast — Tanith Lee
The Secret Books of Paradys, book 2

Beast

1988’s The Book of the Beast is the second of Tanith Lee’s The Secret Books of Paradys. The Book of the Damned was a collection; The Book of the Beast is a novel. Made out of short stories! Mysterious are the ways of authors … or perhaps publishers.

Young scholar Rauolin had no inkling of the dark history of the D’Uscaret clan when he took a lodging in their ancient home. Others are better informed—the name alone is enough to reduce one prostitute to hysterics—but poor Rauolin doesn’t begin to grasp the trouble he has invited until after his assignation with the enchanting and quite dead Helise D’Uscaret.




Helise was not born into the D’Uscaret family. Young and naive, she had no idea who or rather what she was marrying when she was betrothed to Heros D’Uscaret (not that it would have mattered if she had known, since she was never consulted about the arranged marriage). It is only after Helise and Heros are married that Helise begins to learn about the D’Uscaret curse … and of course by then it is far too late.

In the final days of the dying Roman Empire, a Roman soldier yearned for the glorious career and dazzling life of which he had been cheated (in his estimation). Offered an amulet of considerable power, he accepted it in hopes of changing his fate. Which it did. All such gifts come with a price; in this case, the price was that owner of the amulet would became the host of a great, dark beast, a mindless hunger eager to manifest in our world.

Centuries passed, the empire fell, and a new civilization rose … but the D’Uscaret and their curse live on. Raoulin’s compassion for the shade of Helise may make him its latest, but not last victim….

 ~oOo~

I was a little worried when the learned Jew Haninuh put in an appearance, not to mention his beautiful daughter, the sorceress Ruquel. Both are stereotypic, exoticized figures rather than rounded characters. Neither one seemed particularly informed by a detailed knowledge of actual Judaism.

Ruquel in particular reminded me of the lovely Rebecca of Scott’s Ivanhoe. I was afraid that, in the end, she might also remind me of The Merchant of Venice’s Jessica. Rebecca virtuously decides that she cannot marry the Christian Ivanhoe; Jessica, however converts to her husband’s faith. As it turns out, Lee finds a third solution for the romance that kindles between Raoulin and Ruquel.

Why do characters in settings like Paradys ever accept magical trinkets? Most such trinkets have a hidden price, one that the owner will regret accepting. Taking one of those things is like downloading malware. Even simple scholarly curiosity is not without risk—but some knowledge may be necessary if one is to deal with the dark magics the ignorant embrace1.

Problematic elements aside, I enjoyed this more than the previous book in the series. The plot was more focused (well, dur, it was actually a novel and not a collection) and the novel’s structure, as the plot worked itself deeper into the past, was diverting.

The Book of the Beast can be acquired from Overlook in a variety of formats, alone and as part of an omnibus.

There doesn’t seem to be an SF Gateway edition, which surprises me.

Title

Missing or dead moms

Missing or dead fathers

The Birthgrave

1

1

The Storm Lord

1

1

Volkhavaar

2

2

Drinking Sapphire Wine

0

0

Night’s Master

2

1

Shadowfire

2

1

Death’s Master

3

3

Sabella

1

1

Day By Night

1

2

Silver Metal Lover

0

0

Delusion’s Master

1

1

Cyrion

0

0

Anakire

2

1

Sung in Shadow

1

0

The White Serpent

1

1

The Book of the Beast

0

1

Total

18

16


1: I must say that the method used to dispose of one particular cursed item is at best what experts call “half-assed.” It will probably cause some unfortunate fisherman or dredge operator to be possessed. And sooner rather than later.



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