“decayed, ruinous, romantic, and depressing by turns”

The Book of the Mad — Tanith Lee
The Secret Books of Paradys, book 4

Book-of-the-Mad

1993’s The Book of the Mad is the fourth and final volume in Tanith Lee’s The Secret Books of Paradys series. It is also the first book in this series that prompted me to shout angrily at whoever wrote the cover copy.

The Paris of our real world may be far across the Uchronic seas from Paradys, but Paradys need not feel lonely. Two other versions of the depraved city, Paradise and Paradis, are close at hand. One only need know the correct magical path to walk from one to another.

Alas, at present the only two people who know that secret are Felion and Smara, and they are as mad as they are murderous. They are confined to the Paradys lunatic asylum.


Leocadia attracts resentment with her art, her debauched lifestyle, and the fact that her wealthy uncle Michelot, now deceased, wrote the other twenty-three of his closest relatives out of his will. His undivided legacy provides Leocadia the lavish funds she needs to pursue her art and her debauched lifestyle. Cousin Nanice seems to take the situation personally. When Leocadia is consigned to an insane asylum after the horrific murder of her current lover, there is some doubt as to her actual culpability. IF one believes Leocadia to be innocent, it seems quite possible that Cousin Nanice is responsible for Leocadia’s predicament.

One timeline over, poor Hilde combines an untutored exploration of her sexuality with the naïveté socially prescribed for young women of station. The result: she convinces herself that she is smitten with a complete cad of an actor. One traumatic assignation later, her outraged family consigns her to the local madhouse.

Where Leocadia’s institution has ambitions of treatment and cure, Hilde’s is an oubliette for the unwanted and despised. The madhouse staff casually abuse the inmates. In Hilde’s case, they are abusing for two: Hilde is pregnant. While there may be some hope for Leocadia and perhaps even for the mad siblings confined in the same institution, there seems to be no hope at all for poor Hilde.

 ~oOo~


Even for a series about demons, baleful transformations, and death, this book was a tremendous downer. The saddest parts involved Hilde. She has been raised in ignorance, then exposed to cunning predators, predators she cannot resist thanks to her naïveté. The outcome is tragic, and in no way her fault. Nonetheless, she is punished with imprisonment and abuse. Her plight is all too believable, but not at all amusing to contemplate. The situation eventually culminates in violence, which the author no doubt intended to be cathartic. The violence did not reconcile me to previous events.

The inside cover’s copy claims that this book acquaints us with “an aesthete’s amoral view of beauty, pleasure, and pain.” I understand that the publisher was trying to appeal to readers avid for sensationalism, but the market copy is not fair to Lee. One has only to read the book to realize that Lee is in no sense an amoral aesthete. Her account might be dispassionate, but she is not indifferent to the suffering of the innocent. She is not writing for sadists.

The victims do not deserve their fates. Leocadia may be self-centered; she may take a somewhat callous view of lovers who outstay their welcome; but she’s not actively malevolent. Hilde is a tragic victim. Felion and Smara, who might in other hands be presented as simply insane, forces of nature exempt from moral judgment, are shown to be fundamentally broken and pathetic.

This is the final volume of the series. It’s not anything like a climax: Lee could have written many more stories about Paradys. This is just where she felt like stopping. If more Paradys stories were to turn up (in her papers; she died in 2015), I would gladly read them. However, I am satisfied with the stories I got.

IMHO, you can read The Secret Books of Paradis in any order you like, but I prefer the order in which they were published. That’s handy because if you buy the omnibus (why wouldn’t you?), that is the order in which you will get them.

The Book of the Mad can be purchased on its own here or in omnibus form here.

It was somewhat more difficult than usual to prepare this book’s entry for the Big Chart of Missing or Dead Parents. Strictly speaking, one of the dead fathers is actually an uncle, but the role he fills is so parental that I included him with an asterisk. Also, he is a lost parental figure not only for Leocadia, but also for her cousins. Which should perhaps give him more weight. (Poor fellow, he seems to have tried to nurture his relatives, but his results were … mixed.)



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


The Book of the Mad

1

2*

Total

19

16*


* Includes one uncle


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