Dark world of living gods

The Blood of Roses — Tanith Lee

Blood-of-Roses

Tanith Lee’s 1990 standalone novel Blood of Roses is set in a fantasy world that mirrors the Europe of the dark ages. This is world where the Church is just as corrupt as it was in our real world, where the pagan past is more present than rulers prefer to believe, and … where vampires and shape-shifters are real.


Landholder Vre Korhlen is unhappy with his heir. This is a dark world with no place for weaklings, and Mechail has been a cripple since infancy. Mechail’s sturdy half-brother Krau would have been a better choice … were it not for one small detail: Mechail is legitimate, whereas Krau is merely a bastard. If Vre dies, Mechail inherits, and Krau has no hope of gaining the holding. At least, not while Mechail lives.

Blood feuds can be handy tools for scheming bastards; it just so happens that there is one to hand. Neighbouring Esnias and Korhlens are mortal enemies. All it takes to remove an inconvenient heir from the board is one well-timed, pre-arranged ambush. No blood on Krau’s hands, none that anyone living can prove. Mechail might be able to prove his brother’s role in Mechail’s murder, but Mechail is dead. Poor Mechail.

Better to pity Krau, because Mechail, savaged by a blood drinking monster as a baby, doesn’t stay dead, The revenant Mechail holds an understandable grudge. Krau does not long survive his half-sibling’s occult resurrection. Only when it is too late does the Majester Anjelan arrive to take custody of undead Mechail.

Maiming, murder, monstrous transformation… all of these are part of a much larger story. The Majester Anjelan is less human than he appears, and something akin to a god. Mechail is merely one of many mortal playing pieces in the long game the Majester is playing.

 ~oOo~

This is not a light read, nor a comforting one. Almost seven hundred pages in hardcover, this was Lee’s longest book to date, possibly her longest book ever. Lee’s convoluted plot needed all of those pages. The plot shuttles back and forth through time, providing the full context for Mechail’s short life and horrible rebirth.

My description above may make it sound as if this is a novel populated entirely by men. This is not the case. Niyla, Veksa, Jasha and others play significant roles. Unfortunately for them, they live in a world where women are property, to be used as slaves or brood mares. Women who want power either have to gain it by manipulating men or risk being burned at the stake. There’s lots of (moderately graphic) sex in this, and very little of it is consensual. In fact, the concept of “consent” would probably be novel to the inhabitants of this feudal society.

Majester Anjelan, brought into being by a misguided attempt to suppress pagan rituals, is less a person and more a force of nature. Although he has goals, his perspective is a very alien one. Anjelan is not wilfully malicious, but he has little empathy for humans; unfortunately for the humans who encounter him, Anjelan is a fascinating being whom many find irresistible.

I am amazed to see there has never been a North American edition of this ambitious novel. More than amazed: I am flabbergasted and gobsmacked. The reason for this lapse may be that the publishing world was enduring a downturn in horror sales about the time this novel was published. Although this is a gothic secondary-world fantasy, the vampires and werewolves and such may have made American publishers think that this was a horror novel and not a good bet at the time. It may be that this book marks the moment when US publishers stopped reliably publishing Lee books. If so, an unfortunate significance.

British readers can buy a copy ofBlood of Roses 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

Total

23

20*



* Includes one uncle.


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