And the moon is full and bright

Heart-Beast — Tanith Lee

heartbeast

Many travel to better themselves, seeking fame, fortune and knowledge in far off lands. Perhaps Daniel Vehmund initially sought to better himself, but by the time he appears in Tanith Lee’s standalone fantasy Heart-Beast, he has embraced a life of expatriate decadence, reveling in the exotic vices of the East. The odds that Daniel will return home alive, let alone healthy, seem quite poor.

And then comes Daniel’s encounter with the tomb-robber and the cursed diamond …


When Daniel returns home alive and in astoundingly robust health, his family’s reaction is mixed. His doting mother is overjoyed to see him, at least for the moment. Brutish older brother Marshall is annoyed at the reappearance of a sibling Marshall despises; the fact Daniel somehow won himself a fortune adds salt to the wound.

Laura Wheelwright might have been happy to see Daniel, if she were still Laura Wheelwright and available for wooing. Daniel’s absence gave handsome, well-born, wealthy Hyperion Worth the opportunity to court the exceptionally beautiful Laura. Long before Daniel returned with his mysterious riches, the opportunity to escape her dreadful family for the luxuries an adoring Hyperion offered was too much to resist. Once Wheelwright, she is now Laura Worth. A shame she cannot return Worth’s love—but one cannot have everything.

The prodigal’s return appears the last bit of good luck the region will enjoy. Soon after Daniel arrives home, a dread beast appears. Immune to knife and bullet, it preys on the helpless locals. With no way to harm the beast, their lot is to scream and die.

Observers might notice that the victims tend to be known to Daniel, and are often people who have crossed him in some way. Although Worth suspects his wife has an affection for Daniel that she will never have for him, Worth does not seem to hold this against either Laura or his romantic rival. A forbearance that is ill rewarded.

Not that the Beast cares for Worth’s sterling qualities …

 ~oOo~

Poor Worth. He should have known better than to be the romantic hypotenuse in a gothic horror novel.

My edition’s Mark Salwowski cover


led me to expect something along the lines of a re-imagined Little Red Riding Hood. Lee has worked that vein before.


Not so! There is a wolf of sorts, and the cover is referencing a scene in the book, but Lee is drawing on a far more recent source of inspiration.


Lee’s werewolf tale is considerably more decadent than scriptwriter Curt Siodmak’s The Wolf Man. There’s no way Lee’s vision, with its drug use and lusty exotic temptresses, would have passed the US movie rating office (the Hays office) or its British equivalent. Well, the temptresses might have, but the sex scene that opens the novel would not have.

While Lee’s debauched Middle East is all too Orientalist (in the pejorative Edward Said sense) and the former slave woman who yearns to have a master again a rather unfortunate creative choice, I did admire the speed with which Daniel’s friend Surim Bey acts to expel Daniel from Bey’s life as soon as Bey discovers the nature of the diamond’s curse … not to mention the skill with which he managed to rid himself of Daniel without violating his personal vows. Bey must sense, however subconsciously, that to allow oneself to besmirch one’s honour for mere survival only invites an ironic death1.

Lee does find time to explore other themes. Laura is another example of a woman for whom great beauty is a mixed blessing. It gives her a way to escape her terrible family, at the cost of marrying a man for whom she will never feel any deep emotional or physical affection.

I’ve remembered to update my grand list of missing or dead parents. Heart-Beast is a bit of a curiosity. There are no orphan protagonists in this novel but Laura might have been better off had she been one. For that matter, Daniel’s mother’s longevity (she lived long enough to see what he had become) was in no way a blessing.

Heart-Beast seems to be very much out of print in North America. British readers are luckier; they can purchase the novel here.


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

Electric Forest

1

0

The Book of the Mad

1

2*

Lycanthia

0

0

A Heroine of the World

1

1

The Winter Players

0

2

Delirium’s Mistress

1


The Blood of Roses

2

1

Castle of Dark

1

0

Prince on a White Horse

0

0

Heart-

0

0

Total

24

20*

* Includes one uncle.

A note for people upset that my title misquotes this poem from The Wolf Man:

Even a man who is pure in heart, and says his prayers by night;
May become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright.

I am actually correctly quoting someone who either misquoted Siodmak’s original poem or altered it because their movie was not set in the fall.

1: Craven cowardice will get you killed in horror movies, generally right after you convince yourself that you are safe. So will, as several characters discover in this novel, misplaced curiosity, although trying to avoid knowing too much is no help, either. To quote Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels’ Rory Breaker, “In fact, you’re gonna have to work very hard to stay alive.”



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